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A relatively inexpensive over-the-counter drug, ibuprofen, appears to be effective in high doses in slowing the progression of lung disease in children with cystic fibrosis, a new study has found.

Cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease that obstructs intestinal functions and blocks breathing, causes death in most patients by the age of 30. Researchers are exploring ways to correct the basic genetic defect underlying the disease, but the immediate challenge, clinicians say, lies in keeping the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients from being damaged by the thick mucus the disease causes.The findings about ibuprofen, reported in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, offer a promising new approach to preventing pulmonary damage without serious side effects, say researchers from Case Western Reserve University and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cleveland, which conducted the study.

"Anti-inflammatory agents represent a new strategy for the treatment of patients with cystic fibrosis and mild lung disease," concluded Dr. Mark W. Konstan, lead author of the study.

- Alison Bass