A medical odyssey
"We just felt strongly that there was something we could do," she says. After meeting other cystic fibrosis patients and family members who pursued understanding of the medical literature, "I began to think, 'Maybe this isn't tilting at windmills.'"
After learning basic biochemistry from textbooks, Hudson began her inquiry by devouring almost 1,000 abstracts of the presentations made at the two medical conferences on cystic fibrosis held annually in Europe and North America. She found that researchers were pursuing gene therapy that could outright cure the disease, but that solution was and still is years away.
"The big prize is gene therapy, and if you're really going to make your mark in cystic fibrosis that's where you'd make it," says Hudson, who anxiously awaits a cure. "But until then, my boys and other people's children are still sick and will get sicker each passing year."
Interested in ways of preventing the symptoms brought on by the genetic abnormality, Hudson learned from an associate on a cystic fibrosis e-mail list of an online resource produced by the National Institutes of Health called PubMed that abstracts hundreds of medical journals (www.pubmed.gov). She searched those archives and identified the articles she needed, then found them through BYU's library and pored over them at home. She has gathered thousands of articles this way - the photocopies stand more than four feet high when stacked on top of each other.
About a year after her research began, a former student and friend of Hudson's died of cystic fibrosis.
"At that time I got really discouraged - I came to realize just how complex the body is and how difficult it is to understand," she says. But then she got her big break. Another mother of a cystic fibrosis patient sent Hudson an unheralded study published in August of 1998 that pointed her toward glutathione, a biochemical, as a primary factor in her son's disease. Months of further research backed up the hypothesis.
Now that she had an idea and an explanation for the chemistry behind it, Hudson sought professional researchers to test her hypothesis by giving a solution of glutathione to cystic fibrosis patients to see if it helped alleviate symptoms. Pregnant with her fifth child, Hudson drilled her husband, David, in the science of her findings and sent him in June of 1999 to the European conference of cystic fibrosis researchers in the Hague, Netherlands. He was allowed to present a poster on her hypothesis and while displaying it met Matthias Griese, a cystic fibrosis researcher at the University of Munich's children's hospital, who said he had also thought about the role of glutathione deficiency in patients and would conduct a clinical trial. (He is now administering inhaled glutathione to 18 cystic fibrosis patients). The night David returned home with the promising news, Hudson was in labor. Their baby was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis shortly thereafter.
In October 1999, David attended the North American conference of cystic fibrosis researchers in Seattle. He was not allowed to present his poster but attended a roundtable discussion where he met Henry J. Forman, a cystic fibrosis researcher at the University of Alabama-Birmingham who was also exploring the role of glutathione. Forman was also the co-editor of the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine and told Hudson's husband that she could submit her research for peer review.
After refining her paper, Hudson submitted it in the spring of 2000. That summer, still trying to find a researcher who would conduct a clinical trial, Hudson consulted the chair of BYU's chemistry department. He referred her to his former student Clark Bishop, now the medical director at the county's largest hospital. Bishop agreed to introduce Hudson to the area's cystic fibrosis researchers. He was so disappointed by their indifference to her hypothesis that he told her he'd conduct the trial himself, provided she could raise the $50,000 it would cost. In March of 2001 Hudson found out that her paper had been accepted for publication. She continues to seek funding for the clinical trial she believes will show that supplemental glutathione can significantly alleviate some of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.
"I didn't do
any primary research - I just looked at the output of many different scientific
communities and most of them had a piece of the puzzle," Hudson says. "I
give PubMed the credit - the diversity of journals that the NIH abstracts
is so immense, that I could cross these disciplinary boundaries with impunity."