Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that affects nearly 70,000 people throughout the world. It is a hereditary disease caused by a defective gene that produces a thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs. It also obstructs the natural functions of the pancreas, preventing the body from breaking absorbing nutrients.
Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease that is most commonly found in people of Northern European descent. It occurs less frequently in African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans and is rarely found in people of Asian and Middle Eastern origin. In past decades, children diagnosed with cystic fibrosis rarely survived until school age.
Now, with advances in medical technology, cystic fibrosis patients often live to adulthood. Approximately 1,000 new cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed every year, and most diagnoses occur before 2 years of age. The symptoms of cystic fibrosis include wheezing, shortness of breath and poorly functioning lungs, slow growth and inefficient weight gain, frequent wheezing and coughing, as well as salty tasting skin and recurring lung infections.
The defective gene at the center of cystic fibrosis affects cells that normally produce thin, slippery lubricating liquid, such as digestive juices and saliva. Normally, these liquids are slippery and thin, whereas cystic fibrosis causes them to become thick and sticky, clogging up and obstructing the normal processes with which these liquids are supposed to function.