A protein dubbed the "fat controller" could offer new hope in treating cystic fibrosis, according to scientists.
Cystic fibrosis causes respiratory problems
Researchers at the University of Dundee have uncovered a link between cystic fibrosis, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that affects organs by clogging them with a thick sticky mucus.
Dr Anil Mehta said the findings could improve the effectiveness of treatment for patients who suffer from the diseases.
Cystic fibrosis disrupts the way the digestive and respiratory systems work. It prevents the pancreas from playing its vital role in helping to break down food.
The disease affects mainly children and young people and a baby can only develop it if it inherits two copies of the faulty gene, one from each parent.
Dr Mehta's research team studied the relationship between three cancer-related enzymes associated with diabetes (NDPK), fat metabolism (AMPK) and cystic fibrosis (CFTR).
They discovered a new pathway between the cancer and fat metabolism enzymes, which they have dubbed the "fat controller".
These enzymes also bind to a protein that causes cystic fibrosis.
The researchers believe their work could have a significant impact on treatment of cystic fibrosis, adult-onset diabetes and some forms of childhood cancer.
Dr Mehta, who has worked in cystic fibrosis research for 20 years, said the findings were an important step in producing more effective treatment for patients.
"It has long been known that cystic fibrosis patients suffer significant variations in weight - they tend to be very thin and can suffer very fast weight loss when they fall ill, but we did not know why this was the case," he said.
"Similarly, it has been known that CF patients suffer a higher rate of cancer than normal and again we did not know why.
"In equal measure, almost half of these patients develop an unusual form of diabetes.
"What our research has uncovered are the genetic links, through this cellular fat controller, which we believe lead to these differences in fat metabolism and cancer. Furthermore, there are also significant links here to diabetes."
Dr Mehta said the findings could have an important impact on future treatment and patients' life expectancy.
The breakthrough offers hope for cystic fibrosis sufferers like 12-year-old Ashley Parlane, who attends Tayside Children's Hospital every two months for treatment.
Her mother Shona said she was encouraged by Dr Mehta's findings.
"The smallest move makes such a big difference to our lives," she said.
"Emotionally, physically and in every other way it brightens up your day thinking that something could be round the corner."