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Cystic Fibrosis is a genetically inherited disease that affects the body's ability to move salt and water in and out of cells. The resulting mucus buildup hampers both the lungs and digestive system, eventually leading to problems such as frequent lung infections and difficulty breathing. In the digestive system, children with Cystic Fibrosis have a large appetite, but grow slowly or not at all due to the body's inability to get nutrients to where they are needed. About 30,000 adults and children in the U.S. have Cystic Fibrosis, although the majority of sufferers are under age 10.
There is no cure for Cystic Fibrosis, but most people with the disease can expect to survive until about age 30. That lifespan is a credit to improvements in the treatment of CF; historically, most children afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis died before age four. Treatments for the disease are limited to helping combat the symptoms. There are some medications on the market that can help slow the progress of the disease, but most CF sufferers experience worse symptoms as they get older.
Cystic Fibrosis only occurs when both parents carry the CF gene. A carrier does not suffer any CF symptoms, and without a test will never know that they are a carrier. If both parents carry the CF gene, there is a one in four chance that the child will develop Cystic Fibrosis. About one in 31 people carry the cystic fibrosis gene, although Caucasians have a greater chance of being carriers. Potential parents can be tested to see if they carry the CF gene. This test is not required, but it is recommended by the American Medical Association, especially for those with a family history of Cystic Fibrosis. Like many genetic diseases, CF is passed down through the family line.
Since proteins make up a large part of the genetic material that carries the CF gene, it is thought that perhaps mis-folded proteins might be a catalyst for the genetic defect that causes CF. One of the goals of the Folding@home project is to confirm or refute this hypothesis.