Introduction – A history of cystic fibrosis by Dr James Littlewood OBE

This page is out of date please go to Introduction in the History Section

“To write an article of any sort is, to some extent, to reveal ourselves. Hence even a medical article is, in a sense, something of an autobiography” – John Chalmers Da Costa (1863-1933). Selected Papers and Speeches, 1931.

The author and the Leeds Regional Cystic Fibrosis Service

There follows a miscellany on various aspects of cystic fibrosis (CF) as seen by one person, a general paediatrician from Leeds in the North of England who qualified in medicine in 1956. I was originally a general paediatrician in the true sense of the term involved in all aspects of paediatrics as was usual in the Fifties, but by the nature of the childrens’ problems referred to me following my appointment as a consultant general paediatrician in 1968, I became particularly involved with respiratory, gastrointestinal disorders and neonatal care. Over the next twenty years or so this eventually evolved into an increasing and ultimately a major involvement with the treatment of people with CF and the development of the Leeds Regional Cystic Fibrosis Centre. Since retirement from the National Health Service in 1997 and since the early Eighties I have had a continual close involvement with the UK Cystic Fibrosis Trust – first as a Member and then Chairman of the Research and Medical Committee, from 2003 I was Chairman of the CF Trust and eventually in 2011 elected its President.

The details of the development of the Leeds Regional Paediatric CF service, which started with a small monthly clinic at Seacroft Hospital, Leeds in 1975 and later at St James’s University Hospital, have been described elsewhere (Littlewood & Kelleher, Cystic Fibrosis News, Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Dec/Jan 1988/89), as has the later development of the service for adults with CF first under the leadership of Dr Steve Conway and now of Dr Daniel Peckham (Conway & Littlewood, Association of CF Adults Newsletter. Cystic Fibrosis Trust. December. 1990). The encouragement and support of the late Mr. Ron Tucker OBE, the then Director of the UK Cystic Fibrosis Trust from 1964, and his frequent advice to parents, patients and doctors in the UK to seek an opinion in Leeds, was another major factor encouraging the early development of our CF service. Also there was invaluable financial support from the UK Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Joseph Levy Foundation which allowed us to appoint a CF Research Fellow, Dr Mike Miller (a registrar grade doctor) and CF Nurse Specialist (Mrs. Teresa Robinson) from the early Eighties; both these colleagues, and those who followed them, were absolutely crucial in the development of the CF service and were among the first specialised CF appointments in the UK.

On this local note, for a service to flourish it must be perceived to be benefiting the patients. This must have been the case as many families and patients returned year after year, often from great distances, even from as far away as Hong Kong, for an Annual Comprehensive Assessment by the small increasingly expert team at St. James’s University Hospital, Leeds (to where we had moved the 2 miles from Seacroft in 1980).

The Leeds CF Service recognised by the Yorkshire Regional Health Authority

Paediatricians in the Yorkshire Region also found the Comprehensive Assessments helpful and in 1983 their Regional Paediatric Advisory Committee recommended that the Yorkshire Regional Health Authority officially recognise the service as a “tertiary referral service” for cystic fibrosis – the first to be so recognised and funded in the UK.

We are grateful to the numerous colleagues at Seacroft and St James’s Hospitals who, for over 30 years, have contributed their skill and expertise to the care of the patients allowing the development of a CF service which now provides full care for over 500 adults (at St James University Hospital) and children (at Leeds General Infirmary) with cystic fibrosis.; their involvement and their specialist skills were absolutely essential to the development and success of the service.

Access to information, images and publications via modern electronic communications

The major developments in electronic communications in recent years have been timely for an undertaking such as this History. The unprecedented advances in access to previous published work via the Internet, into Medline and PubMed in particular, and the availability and ease of transferring visual images, have presented an opportunity which I hope will add a slightly more human touch to some of the important contributions over the years. To actually see pictures of Harry Shwachman, Paul di Sant’Agnese, Archie Norman and many others, who have made such major contributions to our knowledge of the disorder will I hope add to the interest and value of this account of some aspects of the remarkable story of cystic fibrosis. These developments have resulted in the decision to publish this account on the web so as to provide easy access for all those interested in the story of cystic fibrosis. The excellent and widely used website developed by Dr Daniel Peckham and his colleagues in Leeds ( seemed to be the ideal place to publish this book and I am most grateful for Daniel’s offer to publish it and for his collaboration and implementation of the project.  Daniel Peckham has kindly agreed to co-author the New Millennium sections as I felt it would be wise to have a CF expert currently involved in a busy CF centre to ensure accuracy, relevance and credibility to the content and comments relating to recent developments.

Main sources of information

Where abstracts were available for the more recent papers I have endeavoured to extract the relevant message and reduce the number of statistics as, with the modern electronic databases, the reader can obtain these from the abstracts or the originals if necessary. Also most of the articles mentioned have a[PubMed] link, which from around the mid-Seventies, allows access to the full abstract.

I have read and made photocopies of many of the early papers from before 1960 from the originals in the library of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) where I stayed regularly during my frequent visits from Leeds to London from 1995 until 2011 when I was first Chair of the Research and Medical Advisory Committee and then from 2003 to 2012 Chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. These trips to the RSM library involved many hours in the basement among the old bound journals. I am also particularly grateful to my friend and erstwhile surgical colleague Mr. Archie Crompton for the German translations of some of these older articles.

I worked in the late Professor Stuart Craig’s Leeds University Department of Paediatrics from 1960 until moving to the NHS in 1968 as a consultant paediatrician. Professor Craig kindly gave me most of the US Year Books of Pediatrics from 1934 to the mid – Fifties and these have been an invaluable source of information.

The content of the whole of this History is, of necessity, heavily biased towards publications in English, developments in the UK and my own slant on these developments. Progress was relatively non-existent during the Forties in the UK and Europe during the Second World War. It is almost certain that many important contributions in German, French and other languages have been overlooked. For this I apologize and do hope that those who recognise these omissions will contact me to rectify the situation as this present on line version of the History can be edited as soon as any omission or error is brought to our attention.

The various phases of research and understanding

Some research since the identification of CF in 1938, although of basic scientific interest, was of little or no immediate relevance to the treatment of people with cystic fibrosis. Unfortunately, and understandably, in the past a significant amount of CF research has fallen into this latter category, particularly when there was no clear idea as to the nature of the basic defect. Fortunately, since the early Eighties and particularly after the identification of the CF gene in 1989, much scientific research is clearly focused on the investigation and correction of the basic defect, by either gene therapy or pharmacological means.  However, I am in total agreement with the late Maurice Super’s observation that “it is far easier to write on these milestones in retrospect, since discovery of the gene and agreement on the transport defect. For a long time CF was fertile only in the perfusion of false dawns and in controversy between workers who could not reproduce one another’s work. Now we have a fine distillate from what was once very muddy wine” (Super, 1992 below). These words were written in the heady days soon after the identification of the CF gene in 1989 and before the first papers on gene therapy were published from 1993 onwards – before the many problems in correcting the basic defect were experienced. Nonetheless, the identification of the CF gene was the definite turning point in the investigation, understanding and treatment of CF after which there was steady, focused progress in correcting the basic defect by either gene replacement or pharmacological therapy.

So cystic fibrosis is truly a disorder of our times. During the lifetime of many of us, including myself, the condition was first clearly described as a specific entity (in 1938 when I was 6 years old), the heredity aspects were recognised in 1946, the treatment was steadily improved, the gene and its product were identified in 1989 and by 2012 the first drug, ivacaftor (Kalydeco), to modify the effects of one of the genetic mutations (G551D), became available to treat patients first in the USA; also in 2012 the first multidose trial of gene therapy was started in the UK by the Gene Therapy Consortium and completed in 2015.

Advances in related fields relevant to cystic fibrosis are discussed

At times I will digress to discuss the impact of parallel developments in related fields of medicine where progress has been central to further understanding and treatment of cystic fibrosis, for such advances have been absolutely essential to the progress in CF research – for example the understanding of the role of gluten in coeliac disease, the many advances in genetics and molecular biology and the many technical advances in investigation and general laboratory medicine.

Some suggestions on how to use the “History”

The main format considers the developments by decades, starting each of the earlier decades with a short commentary followed by some of the important references of that decade with the author’s (JML) personal comments on many. One reader referred to the work as a “Paper Trail History” which seems appropriate.

To obtain a general overview of the history of CF

It would be appropriate to read the introduction at the start of each decade. Also refer to the section entitled “Some previous publications on the history of cystic fibrosis” in the Future section.

For readers requiring a more concise account there is also a recent article at the end of this Introduction’A Short History of Cystic Fibrosis. from recognition (1938) to treatment of the gene (2012)”

Also I recommend you read my Joseph Levy Memorial Lecture – “Looking back over 40 years and what the future holds” delivered at the 2004 International Birmingham CF Conference; the full text of the lecture is on the CF Trust website ( and also can be accessed on internet by entering “2004 Joseph Levy Lecture” which enters the CF Worldwide website where the full lecture is also available.

Also for those with access to a medical library or the appropriate textbook the following two chapters in the Fourth Edition of the textbook Bush A, Bilton D, Hodson M. editors. Cystic Fibrosis published in 2016 provide a concise account of the history from early days to the present time –

Appendix A. James M Littlewood. History of cystic fibrosis (to 1989).

Chapter 1. Kris de Boeck. Introduction: from the discovery of the CFTR gene in 1989 through to 2014..

To read about a particular subject in this History consult the ‘Topics’ section.

Although there is no index as such, the publications are presented in chronological order in the main text and the more frequently discussed subjects (for example antibiotics, sweat tests, neonatal screening, etc ) are reproduced and grouped together in their individual Topics sections where the entries relating to particular subjects also appear in chronological order. The main entries in the sections of the new Millennium, where each year has an individual section, are in alphabetical order of the first author.

The words “above” and “below” after a particular reference indicate the particular reference is present either earlier or later in the main text and it can be identified there by its date. An occasional reference is included in a Topic but has not appeared in the main text and is usually marked thus*. Most of the images that appear in the main text have not been transferred to the Topics section.

The Brief Biographical Details and Images section (part of Future sectiion)

Here are listed those authors where an image (I) and/or brief biographical details (B) are included. The date against the individual’s name indicates the date of their entry in the main text where their image and brief biographical details appear.  The images do not always approximate to the appearance of the author at the time the reference first appeared!

The “Site Search” facility allows one to search the whole text for a particular word.

When searching for a particular subject it also helpful to look in the appropriate Topic

Some publications on CF are designated as the “megapapers”

These are publications that have had a major influence on the understanding, diagnosis, treatment or outlook of people with cystic fibrosis (see somemegapapers.htm).

For example Dorothy Andersen’s 1938 paper clearly describing the condition (Andersen DH, 1938 below) following which CF was generally recognised as evidenced by the many reports that soon followed when pathologists reviewed their previous autopsies.

Also Paul di Sant’Agnese’s recognition of the abnormal sweat electrolytes (di Sant’Agnese et al, 1953 below) clearly comes into this category.

Precisely which of many other important publications deserve a “megapaper” rating is a purely personal opinion of a non-scientist clinician treating hundreds of people with CF and frequently learning from experience and colleagues whilst doing the job. Some of these articles definitely influenced our treatment of people with CF and others advanced the general understanding of the condition.

Any readers’ suggestions of papers that deserve designation as megapapers would be most welcome.

In conclusion

Very many thanks to the numerous colleagues in so many disciplines and many countries who have contributed to our knowledge of CF – not least the patients and their families. These people are too numerous to mention by name.  Much of our experience in Leeds has been gained during treatment of hundreds of children and adults with CF – treatment which has been continually changing and improving; the experience gained forms the basis of the “The Leeds Method of Management” which by 2008 had reached the 7th edition; the text is now available on this website (

Finally, there will be many people and publications that should have been included but have been omitted and I would welcome comments if there are significant omissions; also if there are factual errors or misinterpretations. Comments from people with CF and their families would also be most welcome.  Any anecdotes, images or personal recollections which would add interest to this History would be most welcome.

The text is revised frequently “on line” so there will be an opportunity for immediate alterations and additions rather than waiting for the next edition. The first ten years of the New Millennium were added in late 2010 and with this latest revision we have added 2010 to 2015


Please do feel free to contact me, Jim Littlewood, at or directly at

For readers requiring a brief overview there follows –

                             A SHORT HISTORY OF CYSTIC FIBROSIS

                   From recognition (1938) to treatment of the gene (2012)

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common life-shortening recessively inherited disorder of Caucasian people affecting as many as 1 in 2000 newborn infants in some countries.  Both parents are healthy carriers as are up to 1 in 25 of the population.  If untreated, signs of severe intestinal malabsorption, failure to thrive and lower respiratory infections, which are slow or fail to clear, are present from an early age. Mutations of the CFTR gene, of which there are now around 2000 described, result in salt and water transport abnormalities across the lining cells of a number of organs leading to viscid secretions which become infected and difficult to clear (lungs) or damage by obstruction (pancreas and liver).

Since 1938, CF has changed from a hopeless condition, fatal in infancy and early childhood, to a chronic condition affecting more adults than children


Dorothy Andersen
Paul Sant’Agnese
Harry Shwachman
Leroy Matthews

During the Thirties some infants with so-called “coeliac syndrome” had pancreatic abnormalities noted at autopsy. Dorothy Andersen1, (figure) a New York pathologist, reviewed these and her own cases and described them as having “Fibrocystic Disease of the Pancreas”.


Review of experience at some of the larger children’s hospitals revealed some infants had fibrocystic disease of the pancreas. Sydney Farber recognised CF as a generalised disorder, rather than due entirely to the effects of the malabsorption, and he introduced the term “mucoviscidosis” 2.  The recessive mode of inheritance was soon described3. The major treatment advance in the Forties was the first use of penicillin in 19464 and later other antibiotics (aureomycin and terramycin)5 without which most of these children did not survive.


Following the heat prostration suffered by some CF infants during the 1948 New York heat wave, Paul di Sant’Agnese (figure) later identified the increased salt content of the sweat6  which became the main diagnostic test. Soon the more convenient pilocarpine iontophoresis was used to stimulate localised sweating7. There were reports of an improving outlook from the few clinics in N. America gaining experience in treating the condition8.

In 1957 a young Cleveland paediatrician, Leroy Matthews (figure), funded by the CF parents, introduced a “comprehensive and prophylactic (preventive) treatment programme” which involved early accurate diagnosis, a programme to deal with all the aspects of the disease and data collection to validate the treatment 9, 10, 11.

Physiotherapy, in the form of postural drainage and percussion, the so-called “English” method of physiotherapy12 was introduced and commended by Harry Shwachman (figure) – a leading expert for many years.


Various lay and professional organisations started. The first, the US National CF Research Foundation (later CF Foundation) had been was formed in 1955 and others followed usually on initiatives of the parents13.

In 1960, di Sant’Agnese visited Europe and in 1965 the International Cystic Fibrosis (Mucoviscidosis) Association (ICFMA) (now CF Worldwide) was formed in Paris under his chairmanship – the aims to improve the care of people with CF, foster research and increase awareness.  The European Working Group for Cystic Fibrosis (Later the European Cystic Fibrosis Society), chaired by Ettore Rossi, soon followed in 1969 (described in detail in 14.

However, although there was modest clinical progress during the Sixties, the nature of basic defect remained totally obscure and there were few scientists researching the problem.


During the Seventies there was a definite change to more comprehensive and intensive treatment in a few clinics for example Cleveland whose methods had formed the basis for the network of CF Centres in the USA from 19619,10.

From the early Seventies, Douglas Crozier, who founded the Toronto CF clinic in 1958, abandoned the traditional low fat diet and changed his patients to a high saturated fat diet requiring the patients to take 60-100 pancreatic enzyme capsules daily 15  improving their nutrition, growth and eventually their long term survival 16. In Copenhagen, Niels Hoiby showed by immunological studies that chronic Pseudomonas infection carried a bad prognosis 17 so a policy of regular 3-monthly courses of intravenous antibiotics was introduced for infected patients with an improvement in survival 17, 18, 19.

There was increasing interest in nutrition as survival lengthened. When energy intake was measured accurately, many CF children had a very poor nutritional intake 20. Various regimens and supplements were tried some with modest success, for example an unappetising elemental diet of beef serum protein hydrolysate, glucose polymer and medium chain triglycerides 21, 22. However, the new, acid resistant pancreatic microsphere enzymes (Pancrease and later Creon) became available in the early Eighties and revolutionised the control of the intestinal malabsorption 23.

The few scientists working on CF in the Seventies explored a wide variety of possible abnormalities and serum “CF factors” which may be related to the pathophysiology but by the end of the decade they were no nearer identifying the basic defect.


This was a decade of remarkable scientific and clinical progress.  Michael Knowles demonstration of an abnormally high potential difference across the nasal mucosa providing direct evidence of epithelial dysfunction 24 was followed by Paul Quinton showing by microperfusion experiments that the sweat gland abnormality was chloride impermeability rather than defective exchange 25. Hans Eiberg and co-workers, in Copenhagen, demonstrated a linkage between a liver enzyme marker paraoxinase, which exists in two forms but was present in the same form in 90% of CF siblings 26. In the same year, Lap Chi Tsui demonstrated a marker on chromosome 7 linked to both paraoxinase and cystic fibrosis 27 and in 1989 the CF gene was eventually identified and termed the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator 28, 29, 30.

There were many important clinical advances during the Eighties. The CF Foundation’s patient registry and others confirmed a rise in median survival of those patients on the registry from 14 years in 1968 to 20 years in 1977 31, matched by one centre in the UK 32. The use of the blood immunoreactive trypsin test for neonatal CF screening was a major advance 33 and became the basis of most neonatal CF screening programmes 34,35,36, 37.  CF Centre care was already well established in some parts of N. America, Europe and Australia where survival improved almost certainly due to CF Centre care 38. Subsequently the UK CF Research Trust gradually financed the appointment of an increasing number of doctors (CF Research Fellows), CF nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians and social workers in the UK hospitals where CF clinics were developing.

During the Eighties, in Europe in contrast to N. America, there was a gradual increase in the use of nebulised anti-Pseudomonal antibiotics to stabilise patients chronically infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa 39 also to eradicate early P. aeruginosa infection 40, 41 thus delaying or preventing chronic P. aeruginosa infection 42, 43. Intensive courses of intravenous antibiotics became routine treatment for exacerbations of the chest infection and new anti-Pseudomonal antibiotics became available. The repeated courses of intravenous antibiotics required improved venous access and delivery systems e.g. totally implantable venous access devices 44, 45. Also home intravenous antibiotics became available at most CF centres 46, 47, 48.

A major advance, for those who had reached the end stages of their disease, was heart-lung transplantation in 1985 by Magdi Yacoub in London and John Wallwork in Cambridge 49, 50. Bruce Reitz had performed the first successful heart–lung transplant in 1981 on non-CF patient in Stanford; later double lung transplants became more popular 51 and a few surgeons had success with living donor lung transplants 52. The results of liver transplantation in the few patients with severe CF-related liver disease were surprisingly good 53. Various new devices and techniques for physiotherapy of CF were described and evaluated during the Eighties e.g. the forced expiratory technique 54, 55, positive expiratory pressure 56 and high frequency chest compression 57.

Involvement of dietitians and the use of the new acid resistant enzymes improved nutrition 58, 59 – undoubtedly the availability from the early Eighties of the new acid resistant enzymes 23 was one of the major advances in treatment during the Eighties. For the severely malnourished there was nasogastric 60, gastrostomy 61 or parenteral feeding 62.  In 1989 the beneficial effect of regular ursodeoxycholic acid treatment in improving CF related liver disease was reported 63. Towards the end of the Eighties more CF Centres for adults were started for the increasing number of people with CF who were now reaching adulthood and the transition of these adolescents to the adult clinics received increasing attention.


The steady improvement in clinical progress continued and although the hoped-for gene therapy treatment did not materialise during the decade there was steady scientific progress in this direction. Welsh and his colleagues were the first to achieve correction of the defective chloride channel in CF epithelial cells 64. It was soon shown that the most frequent gene mutation, DF508, was incompletely processed 65 and did not reach the cell membrane 66 but when it did, it functioned reasonably well.  Also growing CF cells at a reduced temperature improved expression of CFTR chloride channels 67. Eventually CFTR was confirmed to be an actual chloride channel 68.

It was important to develop an animal model for CF for research to progress and in the early Nineties this was achieved by three groups – in North Carolina 69, Edinburgh 70 and Cambridge 71. Within a year the first report of successful gene transfer into the airways of a CF mouse was reported 72; eventually in 2008 a pig model with CF was produced 73.

In 1993 the first attempt at gene therapy into the nasal passages of a person with CF was reported 74.  There followed further reports of gene transfer into animals and humans using either viral or liposome vectors but none resulted in clinically adequate gene expression. However, there were some practical benefits for people with CF resulting from identification of the CF gene including reliable carrier detection, accurate antenatal diagnosis, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and the incorporation of DNA testing into most neonatal screening programmes.

Attempts to correlate phenotype and genotype indicated that some “mild” mutations were associated with some residual pancreatic function 75. CF carriers were over represented among non-CF infertile men 76, and those with recurrent pancreatitis 77, 78.

The improvement in outlook which characterised the Eighties continued through the Nineties as a result of steady improvement in care and the increasing expertise of the staff at the now well-established CF Centres in many countries. Notable additions to the treatments available included recombinant human DNase (Pulmozyme), the first really effective mucolytic 79,80, a new preparation of tobramycin for inhalation (TOBI) 81 permitting a more widespread use of inhaled antibiotics in N. America, and long term Azithromycin 82 also for patients with chronic Pseudomonas infection. However, the provision of “optimal care”, which is complex and very expensive, for all people with CF proved to be increasingly difficult.

Cross-infection between people with CF, with B. cepacia complex and transmissible P. aeruginosa, resulted in a radical change in the organisation of CF care. In 1977 Pseudomonas (now Burkholderia) cepacia in people with CF was first reported in North America 83 and later in the UK 84; later the organism was shown to spread between patients causing serious even fatal illness 85,86,87,88.

Also there was increasing evidence of cross-infection with particular “highly transmissible” strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa 89, 90.  So the need for cross-infection control radically altered the whole attitude to cross-infection and social contact in both CF Centres and in the community. From the early Nineties all people with CF were strictly segregated according to their microbiological status.

Another significant advance in treatment during the Nineties was the widespread adoption of eradication treatment for early Pseudomonas infection in Europe but not in the USA 41 which subsequently resulted in a significant reduction in the incidence of chronic infection in the UK and Europe 42.

From the early Nineties the new high strength pancreatic enzymes (e.g. Pancrease HL, Creon 25,000) were available and welcomed by people with CF and used by many today although care was needed avoid very high doses which rarely could cause damage to the lower bowel. With increasing survival into adulthood major problems related to CF including diabetes mellitus, liver disease, osteoporosis, pregnancy and infertility became increasingly common and presented further chronic management problems.


The main scientific research efforts were directed towards better understanding the function and control of CFTR and continuing efforts to treat the basic genetic defect with either gene replacement therapy or pharmacological correctors or potentiators of the mutant gene.

In 1999 three research teams in London, Oxford and Edinburgh were encouraged to form the UK Gene Therapy Consortium (GTC) and eventually a multidose gene therapy trial started in 2013 ( The use of CF animal models remained an essential part of research, particularly CF mice, which had been available since the early Nineties 69, 70, 71. Eventually towards the end of the decade a CF pig was produced 73 and also a CF ferret 91.

In N. America, and to a lesser extent in Europe, the emphasis of research has been on pharmacological correctors and potentiators of the abnormal gene (www. including gentamicin for “stop mutations” 92 and subsequently of PTC 124 (Ataluren) 93.  Drugs to treat specific genetic mutations represent a major advance and in 2012 the first, Ivacaftor, became available for treating people with one or two G551D mutations; the results are quite dramatic 94. By 2013 drugs for treating other mutations, including the most frequent DF508, are undergoing clinical trials either alone of with Ivacaftor 95.

Trials with inhaled hypertonic sodium chloride solution showed positive results in reducing exacerbations and this was introduced into the treatment regimens of some patients 96.

What of the Future?

Early diagnosis in the first weeks by neonatal CF screening, early expert advice, support and monitoring by a specialist CF team, and early appropriate treatment of respiratory infection and malabsorption are now well established as essential and should be the right of all people with CF both now and in the future. Chronic gastrointestinal problems of pain and distal intestinal obstruction syndrome are still relatively common and it is encouraging that they are receiving more attention.  A greater proportion of care will be provided from Specialist CF Centres – virtually all advances in clinical care have occurred at such centres. The persisting inequalities of care so clearly revealed in the past and yet still present as revealed by the CF registries in North America, the UK and elsewhere, hopefully will lessen.

More user-friendly “conventional” treatment to control symptoms will be available e.g. more efficient nebulisers, powder rather than liquid delivery of inhaled drugs. Also increasing efforts to improve adherence from various psychosocial strategies are of increasing importance.

More lung transplants will be required and measures are being taken to increase the supply of donor organs where this is a problem. Other major and complex problems will increase as the population ages e.g. diabetes, liver disease, osteoporosis, pregnancy, infertility, chronic renal problems, drug allergies as well as complex psychosocial issues. There will be increasing use of home care and CF Nurse Specialists as part of the CF centre team will be increasingly important.  Protocols for prevention of cross-infection will be even more important as new organisms emerge and resistance and allergies to current antibiotics increase.

Carrier testing of relatives, the option of antenatal screening and, if positive diagnosis, and pre-implantation diagnosis for high risk couples should be encouraged and available. Unfortunately this opportunity to ensure an infant of two carriers does not have CF does not receive the attention it deserves at present.

Consensus meetings and publications outlining the best available treatments, making the information available to all, and registries to monitor treatment received and the results will become even more important. Provision of the best available treatment for CF is very expensive and is likely to remain so. Unfortunately funding will continue to be a major problem.
Most professionals involved with CF care appreciate the major problems of people with CF and their families and will continue to provide a sympathetic, high standard service. The addition of expert psychological advice can do much to assist patients and families to come to terms with their many and varied problems as they occur.

Major efforts to treat the basic defect will continue and increase and CF is a template for other genetic diseases. It is very likely that either gene replacement or pharmacological treatment (perhaps depending on the patient’s particular mutations) or both will effectively normalize, or significantly improve, the disturbed physicochemical condition within the CF airways, so that much less treatment or even no other treatment will be required for the respiratory tract.  There are many other encouraging developments relating to restoring the airway surface liquid some are already of proven value e.g. hypertonic saline, dry powder mannitol.

There has not been a time when there was more hope of major progress in CF care than the present. In contrast with the really hopeless outlook in the early years, the present state of knowledge, clinical care and the involvement of so many highly regarded scientists would have been beyond belief even 25 years ago. In fairness to the early workers, there have also been massive advances in medicine, science and technology generally, many of which have facilitated the advances in CF research.

While research, prevention, improvement in diagnosis, treatment and provision of optimal care for people at all stages of the condition will remain of the highest priority, progress both in the pharmacological treatment and gene replacement therapy to correct the basic defect is definitely gaining momentum and success in this area is likely to benefit even patients whose condition is more advanced.

Jim Littlewood 2016

Based on –

“The History of Cystic Fibrosis” by Dr James Littlewood OBE

Edited and produced by Dr Daniel Peckham


1. Andersen DH. Cystic fibrosis of the pancreas and its relation to celiac disease: a clinical and pathological study. Am J Dis Child 1938; 56:344-399.

2. Farber S, Shwachman H, Maddock CL. Pancreatic function and disease in early life. I. Pancreatic enzyme activity and the celiac syndrome. J Clin Invest 1943; 20:827-833.[PubMed]

3. Andersen DH, Hodges RC. Celiac syndrome V. Genetics of cystic fibrosis of the pancreas with consideration of the etiology. Am J Dis Child 1946; 72:62-80.

4. Di Sant’Agnese PA, Andersen DH. Celiac Syndrome IV. Chemotherapy in infections of the respiratory tract associated with cystic fibrosis of the pancreas; observations with penicillin and drugs of the sulphonamide group, with special reference to penicillin aerosol. Am J Dis Child 1946; 72:17-61.

5. Shwachman H, Fekete E, Kulczycki LL, Foley GE. Effect of long term antibiotic therapy in patients with cystic fibrosis of the pancreas. Antibiot Ann 1958-59; 692-699. [PubMed]

6. di Sant’ Agnese PA, Darling RC, Perera GA, Shea E. Abnormal electrolyte composition of the sweat in cystic fibrosis: Clinical significance and relationship to the disease. Pediatrics 1953; 12: 549-563. [PubMed]

7. Gibson LE, Cooke RE. A test for concentration of electrolytes in sweat in cystic fibrosis of the pancreas utilising pilocarpine electrophoresis. Pediatrics 1959; 23:545-549.[PubMed]

8. Shwachman H, Kulczycki LL. Long-term study of 105 cystic fibrosis patients. Am J Dis Child 1958; 96:6-15.[PubMed]

9. Matthews LW, Doershuk CF, Wise M, Eddy G, Nudelman H, Spector S. A therapeutic regimen for patients with cystic fibrosis. J Pediatr 1964; 65:558-575. [PubMed]

10. Doershuk CF, Matthews LW, Tucker AS, Nudelman H, Eddy G, Wise M, Spector S. A 5-year clinical evaluation of a therapeutic program for patients with cystic fibrosis. J Pediatr 1964; 65:677-693. [PubMed]

11. Doershuk CF, Matthews LW, Tucker A, Spector S. Evaluation of a prophylactic and therapeutic program for patients with cystic fibrosis. Pediatrics 1965; 36:675-688. [PubMed]

12. Doyle B. Physical therapy in treatment of cystic fibrosis. Phys Therapy Rev 1959; 39:24 – 27. (Prepared under the direction of Harry Shwachman). [PubMed]

13. Morrison C, Morrison R. National and International Cystic Fibrosis Organisations. In: Dodge JA, Brock DJH, Widdicombe JH, editors. Cystic Fibrosis – Current Topics. Volume 1. England: John Wiley & Sons, 1993:319-346.

14. History of the European Working Group for Cystic Fibrosis and the European Cystic Fibrosis Society Conferences. Based on a lecture by Niels Hoiby adapted by Jim Littlewood (in “Future” section of

15. Crozier DN. Cystic fibrosis: a not so fatal disease. Pediatr Clin North Am 1974; 21:935-948. [PubMed]

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