The treatment of women with cystic fibrosis, a disease more prevalent in Ireland than in any other country, could be helped by a major Irish scientific breakthrough.

Almost four times as many people in Ireland have cystic fibrosis (CF) than in other EU countries or the US.

The survival rate for females with the respiratory disease, which seriously inhibits sufferers’ lung use, is much lower than men’s and they are also more susceptible to ongoing lung infections.

But now researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) have made an important discovery explaining the gender discrepancy.

They found that the estrogen hormone, which is found in much higher levels of which, prevents the release of a chemical signal that can help trigger white blood cells to fight infection in the lungs when bacteria attack cells.

But the RCSI work, funded by the program for research in third level institutions and a Molecular Medicine Ireland scientist fellowship, could improve the quality of life for female cystic fibrosis sufferers, who usually survive two to five years shorter than male counterparts.

'Our research may contribute toward narrowing the gender gap in cystic fibrosis by identifying new potential targets for treatment such as stabilization of estrogen levels or more aggressively employing preventative strategies against infection during the one week of the four week menstrual cycle where estrogen levels are at their highest,' Doctor Sanjay Chotirmall said.

Chotirmall plans further research over the next year while on leave from the specialist registration-training scheme at Beaumont Hospital, where a new outpatient facility for CF patients is to open in the coming weeks.

Special facilities for CF sufferers will be provided at a 120-bed unit to be built at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin.

The incidence of CF in Ireland – 2.98 per 10,000 – is the world’s highest and it affects about one in every 1,600 children born here.