Christina’s story: ‘This would, literally, change lives’
In her final year studying science at UCD, Christina Kenny knew that she wanted to do postgraduate research, but was unsure in what area. Her mother, Alison, who had cystic fibrosis (CF), advised that she do something that she really cared about.
The previous year Christina (23), had done an internship at Queen’s University Belfast involving research into CF and had loved it. She decided that was what she wanted to do, and she set out to find out more about her mum’s condition.
“It seemed like the perfect fit,” recalls Christina. “It was something that I really cared about, and I knew a lot about, so that’s what I did. I started a PhD in cystic fibrosis research.” She started her PhD in September 2015, but sadly her motherAlison passed away on Christmas Day only a few short months later. She was 45.
Alison’s quality of life was badly affected by CF, but her spirits stayed high. “I have no idea how she did it,” said Christina. “She was one of the jolliest, most happy-go-lucky people anyone has ever met. She was a big joker, and was constantly taking the piss out of anything and everything. It never ended.”
After her mother died, Christina went back to study two months later, but it proved to be too early. She felt herself becoming overwhelmed by her loss and decided to put her PhD study on pause, with about two years of it left to run.
“My mother is one of seven children, and three of them have cystic fibrosis,” explained Christina. “My mother’s brother got a transplant when he was around 29. He was the last person to be transplanted with a certain bug called Cepacia and he passed away after the transplant.”
The lung transplants for CF stopped for people with Cepacia, because people were dying, explained Christina. Then, when Alison too got the bug, it meant
‘‘ If you told her that cutting off her left arm would improve her lung function, she’d probably do it
that transplantation was not an option for her. Furthermore, she had a rare form of CF that meant she was not an ideal candidate for new anti-CF drugs such as Kalydeco.
If Crispr had been developed in time for Alison, Christine has no doubt that her moether would have wanted to try it. “If you told her that cutting off her left arm would improve her lung function, she’d probably do it.”
What does she think about the possibility that Crispr could provide a once-off fix for CF for life? “That would be amazing. Having first-hand experience, it would, literally, change lives.”