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Although dornase alpha (recombinant human DNase) can thin the viscid pulmonary secretions of cystic fibrosis (CF), clinical trials in groups of unselected patients have shown only modest average improvements in pulmonary function. The product is very expensive, so in conjunction with purchasers we designed selection criteria and a protocol for a 2-week trial to target CF individuals who might gain most benefit. Treatment was to be continued in those showing > or = 10% improvement in pulmonary function. Those who had a trial of dornase alpha were followed up for 2 years. Of 25 patients who had a 2-week trial of dornase alpha, 17 met the criteria for continuation (average gain in forced expiratory volume 37%). The 11 of these who were still alive at 2 years had a greater initial average FEV1 improvement than those who had died (45% versus 22%), and still had an average improvement of 31% at 2 years. The 8 patients who did not meet the criteria for continuation were older and had required fewer intravenous antibiotic courses. All these were alive at 2 years with unchanged clinical indices. This method of selection for dornase alpha treatment allows targeting to those who gain most benefit without disadvantaging the remaining patients. Furthermore, production of such guidelines in conjunction with purchasers obviates funding difficulties and allows rational prescribing.