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CF diagnosis may soon be simplified

The genetic disease cystic fibrosis (CF) currently affects one in every 3,300 births in the United States. As Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month also takes place in May, a new and far simpler screening method for CF may soon help to ease some of the diagnostic burden for babies, families and physicians alike.  

A Northwestern University-led research team has developed a gentle, easy-to-read sticker that, when applied to a baby’s skin, absorbs sweat and then changes color to provide an accurate diagnosis of CF within minutes. While measuring chloride levels in a sweat test has been the diagnostic standard for decades, the current technology involves a rigid, bulky and often uncomfortable device which must be strapped to infants’ wrists for at least 30 minutes to collect their sweat.

In testing of the stickers at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, researchers found that they were not only more comfortable for children, but could also collect about 33% more sweat than the current method, helping to ensure that just one test can provide an accurate result.

Because it is so simple to use, the stickers may eventually provide the option of testing children outside of hospitals in the home, which could help families in rural areas or in medical settings without special diagnostic tools.

For families already anxious about a CF diagnosis, though, doctors involved in the testing said the sticker technology can offer several advantages right now over the collection devices currently in general use. “Some parents bring their baby in for testing and are sent home without a confirmed result because the device was unable to collect enough sweat,” said study co-author Dr. Susanna McColley, a pediatric pulmonologist at Lurie. “They go home, without knowing if their baby has a serious disease or not, and their baby cannot yet start treatment. It can be agonizing.”

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