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UNC Scientists Make Breakthrough Research Regarding Cystic Fibrosis

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Cystic Fibrosis

is a deadly disease that attacks the lungs of children. Five-hundred families in North Carolina struggle with the genetic illness.

Although there is no cure, there is a new reason for hope. Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have uncovered the major cause, which they said will lead to better treatment and, ultimately, a cure.

The average life expectancy of someone with Cystic Fibrosis is 30 years.

"You think about that every day," said Mike Rock, whose daughter, Angelica, has the disease. "You think half the people die later in life, and half the people die earlier in life. That is the scariest thing."

Because of the disease, Angelica Rock's lungs are more susceptible to bacterial infections. To fight it, she takes at least 20 pills a day.

She is healthy now. But over time, the disease will wear down her lungs.

Hope for the Rocks -- and others affected by the disease -- comes from the breakthrough research being done in a UNC-CH lab.

Dr. Marcus Mall and a staff of 10 people at

UNC's Cystic Fibrosis Center

spent the last four years looking for what causes the disease. They discovered that Cystic Fibrosis patients lack a thin layer of water on their lungs that helps to keep them clean.

What Mall and the others found eventually could save lives.

"It could well help to prevent the disease," Mall said. "If it's diagnosed early and treatment given, we predict that this could help prevent the development of the disease."

Mall said effective treatments could be on the market in just a few years. That sounds like good news, but Angelica Rock's mother remains cautiously optimistic.

"When you have a child with a fatal disease, it hits you every day," Mary Beth Rock said. "So, when news like this comes in, not that I don't believe it, but I have to take it one day at a time."

She takes it along with the hope those days eventually will add up to a full life.

The Rocks are doing more than just hoping for a cure. They also are busy raising money for it. Mary Beth Rock is organizing the

Great Strides Walk

at the State Capitol on May 16. WRAL's Debra Morgan is the honorary chair of that event.


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