Researching a Cure for Cystic Fibrosis: Nigel Farrow

It is not unusual to undertake a radical career change - but very few stories are as inspiring as that of Nigel Farrow.

When Nigel Farrow’s daughter Ella was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Nigel was utterly devastated. At the time he was a career musician, who had not completed his high school education – and had certainly never considered joining the medical profession.

In a remarkable display of courage and dedication, Nigel took action by enrolling in a medical science degree, in a passionate and a personal commitment to find a cure.

“Having a little one diagnosed with CF was very hard and, as it’s genetic, we blamed ourselves,” he said. “I decided that the only meaningful contribution I could make to help Ella was to find a cure for the disease.”

After seven years of study, Nigel now holds a Bachelor of Medical Science, a Bachelor of Health Science with First Class Honours in medicine and has recently submitted his PhD thesis.

In 2009, Nigel also joined the Adelaide Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Research Group, which is a world leader in the development of a cure for this genetic disease. 

As part of this group, Nigel has spent the last five years undertaking molecular studies, demonstrating that by treating the airway stem cells  that replenish the lungs, longer-term effects can be sustained. Importantly, by targeting the airway stem cells, Nigel hopes to ultimately provide a treatment that is given as a single dose with lifelong prevention of CF related airway disease. This research offers a potential cure for the airway disease caused by CF as well as a platform which may be used for many other genetic diseases. 

Although this evidence is an important step for gene therapy for CF, further development is needed. The right cells need to be targeted to improve uptake of the treatment so patient outcomes are maximised.

When he was a PhD student, Nigel’s research role was supported through a small government stipend – but as a postgraduate, there is no funding to allow him to continue his important work.

As a parent and a researcher, Nigel believes that this research is the best way forward to finding a cure.

“While this endeavour is about Ella, the results of my work will be shared and celebrated by a global community of CF sufferers and their families. I hope to provide answers, but also provide inspiration to others to meaningfully contribute to this cause.” 

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