Research in Focus: Combatting Cystic Fibrosis

As part of #BiofilmWeek, we’re highlighting interesting and exciting biofilm research being undertaken across our NBIC partner research institutions by early career researchers, PhD students and our Interdisciplinary Research Fellows.

We interviewed Declan Power, a PhD student from the University of Southampton and member of our Doctoral Training Centre in Biofilms Innovation, Technology and Engineering (BITE). Declan tells us all about his research into cystic fibrosis.

Tell us about your research project

My research relates to the health sector, it specifically focuses on the treatment of cystic fibrosis symptoms. My project title is, ‘Targeted small molecule Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm dispersal agents, for the treatment of infections in cystic fibrosis patients’.

Chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm infections pose a significant problem in cystic fibrosis patients, with increased tolerance to current clinical antimicrobial therapies. This project will explore new approaches to combat biofilm infections using novel nitric oxide releasing prodrugs to induce biofilm dispersal.

We have some collaborators at the University of Wollongong in Australia, who are a group of chemists that are making the dispersal agents that we’re using to dispose of the biofilms.

cystic fibrosis
Direct 3D CLSM FISH imaging of P. aeuginosa biofilm aggregates in CF patient sputum.

What is the current market position or situation within this sector?                                      

There is very competitive drug market for any cystic fibrosis modulator or antibiotic therapy for alleviating infections and the systems of cystic fibrosis.

What current unmet need does this research address?

Biofilms offer a substantially increased resistance to antimicrobials, rendering conventional therapeutic regimes poorly effective. Consequently, there remains a vital need for new and improved treatments that address the issue of biofilm bacteria, to further improve survival rates and patient quality of life. A better understanding of the behaviour of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms in the cystic fibrosis lung may guide personalised therapeutic approaches.

The project will focus on key challenges that must be addressed for further preclinical development, and will employ a range of microbiological based molecular and microscopy techniques including 3D confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) in combination with fluorescence in-situ hybridisation (FISH).

What emerging economic and societal impact could the project have?  

In the very long term, this could be an effective drug for alleviating the symptoms of cystic fibrosis and fighting infections in the lungs of immunocompromised patients. My project is pre-clinical development, so it is in the very early stages and in order to get to the treatment stage it will have to go through all of the necessary clinical trials and human studies. 

What other research is taking place in this field?

There are other research projects involving revolving around nitric oxide, but these are more focused on light activated release of nitric oxide, which is more topical – whereas my project may target more of a systemic use.

Have you received any funding to support your work? 

The project is part funded through the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, so I have collaborators in a large strategic research centre network. I have also received NBIC funding to attend various workshops and courses, such as commercialisation and software sustainability, which has helped me to understand the importance of data management and how I might progress my ideas further down the line into a commercial entity, or spinout business.

Have you been involved in any public engagement or outreach related to your work? Can you give us a particular memory?

The Southampton Science and Engineering Festival (SOTSEF) is the University of Southampton’s annual science festival took place this year online. I produced a ‘Biofilm Hunt’ worksheet for the event to try and encourage people to seek out biofilms at home and outdoors in the environment.

Find out more

If you are interested in learning more about this project and would like to connect with Declan please contact NBIC at


Declan Power, PhD and NBIC BITE student with the University of Southampton.

Doctoral Training Centre Declan power