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A Run for His Son…and Everyone: An ME/CFS Parent Steps Out

May 21, 2017

A run for his son…

Most people in their late 60’s probably aren’t running half marathons. Alex Ribaroff had run them twice before, when he turned 50 and 60, and he swore he would never do a half-marathon again.  But here he is, at age 67, three months into his training, on the verge of doing just that.

Tom Ribaroff ME/CFS

Tom was perfectly healthy until he came down with infectious mononucleosis at age 16

This time he’s not doing it to celebrate a milestone. He’s doing it to for his son, Tom.  Tom was a strapping young man – athletic, academically inclined and outgoing – when he fell prey at 16 to an Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in the UK. Getting exposed to EBV as a child is usually a piece of cake but if you encounter it as an adolescent, it’s another deal indeed; it’s a very common trigger for ME/CFS.

Tom got hit so hard he had to leave school. Two months later, still not well but itching to get back, he returned – only to get hit harder by another bout. That was five years ago. Tom is at University now, he’s hanging on but everything other than academics – sports, exercise, socializing – is out.  It’s no way for a young man to get through college.

Tom and his family went through the same experience that so many other sufferers from ME/CFS have – the fruitless search for help – the suggestions to use CBT and graded exercise.

Slowly, Alex and his wife Denise learned more about ME/CFS, the many people affected, the few experts, its marginalization and it’s need for funding.  They’ve come to grips with the fact that their young son has a debilitating and chronic illness that many have not recovered from – and they decided to try and do something about it.

They’re raising money to support ME/CFS research. It’s not like they’re experts at this. In fact, they’re complete novices, but their burning commitment to help is pushing them to do things they’ve never done before.

When I asked them why they were stepping out like this, Alex and his wife described the helpless feeling they had watching their young son get sicker and sicker.   “You expect your children to be healthy” he said, and if they’re not then “you expect the medical profession to be able to do something about it.”  No one should have to experience that feeling around their children.

By chance, a year ago, a friend of the family sent them an article from the Guardian newspaper in the U.K., talking about the research advances being made by Mady Hornig and the Center for Infection and Immunity.

Hornig MD, and Ian Lipkin, a world-renowned pathologist, have taken a special interest in ME/CFS. The blood and spinal fluid studies they’ve done in collaboration with the Simmaron Research Foundation (SRF) and other groups found that ME/CFS patients first exhibit a pattern of high immune activation which is followed by immune exhaustion.  Their joint CII/Simmaron Research Foundation cerebral spinal fluid study found a degree of  immune dysregulation similar to that found in multiple sclerosis. (An expanded study is underway). Another joint CII/Simmaron Research Foundation study identified a new class of ME/CFS patients (“atypical patients”) who have unusual disease trajectories and test results). Their latest study found dramatic differences in the gut flora which may eventually lead to targeted gut therapies.

A conversation with Hornig led the Ribaroff’s to get in touch with Dr. Peterson and the Simmaron Research Foundation.  Only then did they feel that they had found a clinician who understood this illness and might be able to help them.

When they found out how many people’s lives are blighted by the disease, and how many people’s future has been darkened by the cloud of ME/CFS hanging over them, their focus shifted. The fight became about more than for Tom.  It became a fight for everyone who has this illness.

Banner-new-2017 from website

So, Alex at age 67 is now lacing up his running shoes for a half-marathon he didn’t ever expect to run again. He’s raising money for two groups – the Simmaron Research Foundation and Columbia University’s Center For Infection and Immunity-  that provided them with answers when they desperately needed them.

Alex Ribaroff

Alex was appalled by the helpless feeling he and wife had when Tom got sick. Now they’re doing something about that.

They’ve put the call for help far and wide to their friends, many of whom were shocked to hear the healthy, young man they’d known was struggling so much.  Jen Brea’s moving “TED talk” – now seen by over 1,200,000 people – proved to be a powerful introduction to a disorder many of them had never heard of.  Alex and Denise hope to raise $75,000 – the first $25,000 of which they will match.

The Ribaroffs are getting more involved. They’re going to meet with Dr. Peterson, Dr. Hornig and other luminaries at the London “Invest in ME” conference, to better educate themselves about global advances in research.

But first comes the run. In just two days Alex will put the memories of the last two runs aside and step out onto the track and run – for his son and everyone else with ME/CFS.

Please support Alex and Denise‘s commitment to help their son and many others with your donation to the Simmaron Research Foundation here.  (The Simmaron Research Foundation will receive half of the donations raised and will provide the other half to support Ian Lipkin and Mady Hornig in their ME/CFS work at the Center for Infection and Immunity.)  PayPal and Credit Cards accepted.

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Update: Sixty-seven year old Alex Ribaroff successfully completed the Bermuda Half-Marathon on the 25th of May 🙂

Simmaron’s Fifth Anniversary Event Updates ME/CFS Community on Dynamic Research Underway

5th-birthday-258x300

Simmaron recently held a patient update session with its Scientific Advisory Board and key collaborators in Incline Village, Nevada. The event celebrated the Simmaron Research Foundation’s fifth year anniversary.  I don’t know if anyone would have predicted five years ago that patients would be hearing from the likes of Mady Hornig, Maureen Hanson, Konstance Knox and Elizabeth Unger but here they were in little Incline Village talking about their work.

CDC Collaboration

The surprise guest at the event was Elizabeth Unger. Dr. Unger was a fitting guest at the Simmaron’s 5th year anniversary meeting; it’s been, after all, just over five years since she took over the helm of CDC’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) program.  Who would have thought five years ago that the head of CDC’s CFS program would show up at a Simmaron information meeting.

Certainly not Dr. Peterson. About five years ago I asked him if the CDC  had ever shown interest in his work,  and he just laughed.  His relationship with the CDC was frosty to say the least. That’s not true any longer.Dr. Elizabeth Unger

Under Dr. Reeves, the CDC developed a definition in-house that received zero support from researchers (and patients). Under Dr. Unger, the CDC has made ME/CFS experts a core feature of its work, is meeting with patient groups, has worked with CFSAC on its website, and is engaging with patients and experts in its educational materials.

Instead of a stumbling block, Dr. Unger turned out to be a collaborator who’s committed an enormous amount of time, energy and her (limited) budget to learning about ME/CFS doctors and their patients.  What a shift that has been.

Dr. Unger threw all the definitions out the window in the multisite ME/CFS expert study. Realizing that doctors, most of whom had decades of experience in this disease, were a better source of what ME/CFS was than any definition, she cleared the decks; anyone the expert doctors believed had ME/CFS, whether they met x or y definition or not, she would study. They were, by default, ME/CFS patients. Dr. Peterson thought it was a brilliant move.

At Dr. Peterson’s invitation, Dr. Unger stayed following a routine site visit to hear the presentations from Simmaron’s Scientific Board and attend the patient gathering.  At the patient meeting she had some good news; the first paper from the ME/CFS experts multisite study was finally under review for publication.

It had been a long time coming. Simmaron and Dr. Peterson are already deeply immersed in the greatly expanded second phase of the trial, and had just gotten a contract for the third phase of the study. The study was already slated to continue at least into 2017 and now will continue further.

This now immense study involving over 800 patients and controls will surely supplant the infamous PACE trial as the largest and longest ME/CFS study ever done. With a third phase slated to begin shortly, it’s going to provide an unprecedented look at a very large group of ME/CFS patients, and how they are tested and treated by doctors over time.

Dr. Unger quickly went over a few of the highlights; the greatest heterogeneity, surprisingly, was found within the ME/CFS expert’s sites, not between them. By and large, the practitioners are not seeing different kinds of patients; instead each is seeing a similarly wide variety of patients. How wide? The standard functional tests being done, for instance, indicate that some people with ME/CFS experience high rates of pain while others experience no pain at all.

The constant is that ME/CFS is producing high reductions in vitality and physical functioning but has relatively little effect on mental or emotional functioning.  Dr. Unger said the multisite studies will go a long way to helping the public understand how severe a disease ME/CFS is.

Konstance Knox  

Konstance Knox, PhD, is collaborating with Simmaron on her insect infection study at Coppe Healthcare. She posited the interesting idea of ME/CFS having a similar trajectory to Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease,she noted, first showed up in pediatrician’s offices in children with arthritis in Old Lyme, Connecticut in the 1970’s.  Eventually the children were found to be infected with bacteria carried by ticks.

KKnox

ME/CFS patients have been showing up in doctor’s offices with unexplained fatigue, post-exertional malaise, pain and debilitating symptoms for years. Could a similar scenario prevail for at least a subset of ME/CFS patients? Knox thinks it might. Her large study, using samples from 300 ME/CFS and healthy controls gathered in the NIH’s XMRV study, is looking for evidence of pathogens that aren’t always tested for in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). They include three different kinds of Borrelia bacteria, the Powassan and Dengue viruses, and the most widespread insect borne disease in the U.S., West Nile Virus.

Each demonstrates how rapidly insect borne pathogens can invade a country. Borrelia was identified as the cause of Lyme in 1981, and according to one estimate, is believed to effect 300,000 people a year.  West Nile Virus was first found in New York in 1999 and has spread across the country.  Now the Zika virus is beginning to touch upon our southern shores in Florida as well.

In Dr. Knox’s mind, the Powassan virus is the big mystery. Carried by the same ticks that cause Lyme disease, Powassan is similar to tick-borne encephalitis virus which has long been shown to cause serious illnesses in Eurasia.

Unlike the Lyme bacteria, which needs the tick to be attached for quite some time for the bacteria to get transmitted, the Powassan virus can be transmitted in just 15 minutes. Knox found that 11% of the 2,000 ticks she studied in Wisconsin  carried Lyme disease and 6% carried the Powassan virus.  She found 55% of people infected with Lyme disease also were infected with the Powassan virus.

Dr. Knox’s preliminary data of ME/CFS patients with an acute flu-like onset found a low incidence of Lyme disease (3%) but a pretty high incidence (11%) of people who had antibodies which looked like they might be to TBEV; i.e. the Powassan virus. The NIH samples offer an opportunity to study these infections in well characterized patients and controls from multiple clinical sites.

Dr. Mady Hornig

The Hornig/Lipkin team at Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) isn’t just looking at ME/CFS to understand the disease. It’s mining clues from a wide range of disorders – from autism to narcolepsy – to try to understand the disease processes that are occurring. They believe the “omics” revolution – which attempts to understand diseases in terms of their genomics, proteomics, metabolomics (and probably other “omics”) – holds the key to understanding and finding the subsets present in ME/CFS.

Mady Hornig sits on the Simmaron Research Foundations Board. She and the Simmaron Research Foundation are frequent collaborators. Until they get to a cause, Dr. Hornig is unwilling to rule out any possibilities. ME/CFS could be caused by an immune response to a wide range of pathogens (which may be present or not) or to an as yet undiscovered agent. That statement suggested that Dr. Hornig doesn’t consider the earlier CII study which found little or no evidence of pathogens to be the end of the story.

Of course few researchers have looked in the tissues. Dr Chia believes he’s found enteroviruses and Dr. Duffy herpesviruses in the gut tissues of ME/CFS and/or fibromyalgia patients. Hornig and Lipkin have looked in the blood but they’re also raising money to do analyses of the flora in the stool and saliva over time. (Check out the Microbe Discovery Project  for more.) Plus, as we’ve seen, a Simmaron/Konstance Knox project is looking for evidence of insect borne illnesses that have not been tested for before.

If  pathogens are involved, the heterogeneity in the disease could reflect genetic differences in how each person responded to them, how old the person was when the infection occurred, the state of each person’s microbiome at the time, etc.  The take-away message was that different symptoms don’t necessarily mean different diseases.

The CII is doing a lot, but Dr. Hornig started out by focusing on a hot topic these days – metabolomics.  The CII team believes that metabolomics may provide the link between what’s happening in the microbiome and the rest of the body. Metabolomics uncovers the breakdown products of metabolism. If a substance, say tryptophan is not being metabolized properly in the gut, it can leave a metabolic signature in the blood that can be picked by metabolomics tests.  From the blood it’s apparently a pretty straight shot to the brain.

Marrying gut (microbiome) and blood (metabolomics) data would be the cat’s meow, and it’s begun to happen. Several small studies have been able to link altered gut bacteria to the presence of gut metabolites in the blood.  A small Solve ME/CFS Initiative study carried that idea one step forward by adding exercise to the mix. It suggested that exercise could, probably by increasing leaky gut issues, result in increased levels of gut metabolites in the blood.

Dr. Hornig believes that aberrant tryptophan metabolism in the gut could provide a major clue for ME/CFS patients.  These metabolic by-products have already been associated with several neurological diseases and are known to cause symptoms similar to those found in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). If she finds problems with tryptophan metabolism in the gut and then can pick up their metabolic by products in the patient’s blood she can make a strong case for a gut-brain connection in ME/CFS.

While she was at it, she also noted that these bacteria can affect NAD+ and energy production.  To sum up, Dr. Hornig is gathering data on a process that could be affecting cognition, the gut and energy production in ME/CFS.

No Mady Hornig talk it seems is complete without an emotional moment. Every event I’ve seen her at has left her and others in tears at some point, and it happened again. I watched an older gentleman come over and clasp her hands. Five minutes later there they were hugging each other and sobbing away.

Top Poop Crew

Dr. Peterson and Simmaron won the top poop collector award

Dr. Peterson and Simmaron won the top poop collector award

While on the microbiome she noted, with a smile, that of all the groups they were working with, Simmaron was the best poop collector; Dr. Peterson gathered more stool samples (hundreds of them apparently) from more patients than any other doctor they were working with. (Go Simmaron :))

Maureen Hanson

Maureen Hanson, PhD, presented some  interesting news recently when she announced during an SMCI webinar that her small metabolomics had duplicated the Naviaux study’s core finding that ME/CFS was a disorder of reduced metabolism; i.e. it’s a hypometabolic disorder.

Maureen Hanson

That finding helps us understand her Simmaron talk a bit better. Hanson explored the subset question more deeply than anyone I’ve seen before.  Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), she said, could be a bunch of different diseases, or one core pathology could be driving it.

Whatever it is, the diversity of symptoms found in the disease has produced a credibility problem because diseases which produce lots of symptoms have long been considered “psychosomatic”. The many different triggers ME/CFS and outbreaks has been associated with, and the many different bodily systems it effects, have been confusing as well.

Hanson thought it was intriguing that the symptom presentations seen in different locales appears to be similar! If ME was the result of different agents producing different diseases in different places then the locales should look very different but they don’t.  Hanson then fished out a bevy of factors which could affect symptom preSimmaron Research | #ShakeTheCFSstigmasentation; the age at which ME/CFS occurred, gender, genetic background, co-infections present, pathogen variations, treatments tried, degree of exercise attempted – all of these could conceivably tweak one disease into producing different symptoms. (Consider what happens to some people who collapse and appear to revert to a different state after overexertion or after using the wrong drug.)

She noted that her mitochondrial DNA study suggested that slight alterations in ME/CFS patients’ mitochondrial DNA could result in different symptoms. That sure presents just the tip of the iceberg with regards to genetics.  (Ron Davis and the Open Medicine Foundation will be attempting to marry genetic data and metabolomics in one of their studies.)

Hanson’s microbiome project was powered by a small NIH grant and took place in a Cornell lab famous for its microbiome work.  The project was a small one but it made a big splash and was picked up by over 50 media outlets.

The study’s finding – a reduced diversity of bacterial species (about 20% less) similar to that found in two potentially devastating gut diseases (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis) gave Hanson the opportunity to tell the media again and again that ME/CFS is a real disease.  The study also found that ME/CFS patients’ gut bacteria tended to be more dominated by a smaller number of bacteria.

Bacteria of the Ruminococcaceae family –  important in fighting inflammation  – were significantly reduced in ME/CFS.  The representatives of another bacterial family called Enterobacteriaceae – which contains some rather nasty pathogens but hundreds of other species – doubled in ME/CFS patients.

At the genus level, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, a butyrate bacteria, which produces an anti-inflammatory protein and protects the intestine was reduced in ME/CFS. A similar finding is found in irritable bowel syndrome.

The low butyrate findings in both Hornig and Hanson’s microbiome studies suggest they are both on the right track. That’s actually a big win given how complex (and new) microbiome analysis is, but perhaps it is not surprising given the pedigree of the labs doing the analyses.

As did a Solve ME/CFS Initiative study, Hanson also found evidence that gut materials were leaking into the blood of ME/CFS patients – a process that could spark an inflammatory process that makes its way all the way up to the brain.

[Butyrate – One neurobiologist calls butyric acid – which is produced by butyrate bacteria – “an ancient controller of metabolism and inflammation”. He reports that butyrate is the primary source of energy for the lining of the large intestine. Butyrate is such an effective anti-inflammatory that butyrate enemas (which reportedly smell horrible) and oral supplements are being used to combat inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.  Butyrate also appears to reduce intestinal permeability – which Hornig’s/Lipkin’s and Hanson’s studies suggest many be happening in some people with ME/CFS.

Butyrate may also increase the levels of T regulatory cells which help reduce inflammation and autoimmune processes.

Hanson is a careful researcher and she spoke carefully regarding treatment. She noted that the inability of researchers at this point to clearly determine which gut species are present hampers them from recommending treatments. They can determine which families are present but because bacterial families can contain many different kinds of gut species -some of which have opposite functions – the study’s impact on treatment recommendations is not clear.

Atypical vs Typical Patients – the Peterson Subset

For many years Dr. Peterson has speculated about what he calls typical vs atypical ME/CFS patients. It’s not clear to me what the groups consist of but my sense is that  typical ME/CFS patients tend to plateau over time and they tend to have familiar co-morbid disorders such as fibromyalgia, migraine, IBS, etc. Atypical ME/CFS patients, on the other hand, tend to have other serious disorders and/or have really serious cases of ME/CFS. Whitney Dafoe and Corinne Blandino are two examples of atypical patients; Whitney because he’s so ill and Corinne Blandino because she has a strange spinal lesion.

Dr. Peterson

Dr. Hornig reported earlier that a cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) tests results had found dramatically different results.

At another event, Mady Hornig talked about the dramatic differences found in the CSF of classical versus atypical patients. Virtually all the immune factors tested were higher in the complex atypical vs the classical patients. In fact, the findings in the two subsets were so different that the atypical patients had to be removed from a study comparing healthy controls and ME/CFS patients. Simmaron and the Center for Infection and Immunity have taken a deeper look at the cerebrospinal fluid in these two types of patients.

I asked Dr. Hornig if she thought the atypical patients had a different disease or were an offshoot of more typical patients? She simply said that she thought that the atypical patients needed to be more closely watched.  Later Dr. Peterson suggested, however, that they may be profoundly different biologically.

We should know more about the similarities and differences between these two subsets soon. A Simmaron/CII spinal fluid study comparing the two in greater detail has wrapped up. The metabolomics data from the Ron Davis/Open Medicine Foundation severely ill patient study and the Naviaux study examining more typical ME/CFS patients will give us some guidance as well. Plus, the CDC will be comparing the test results of severely ill patients and healthy controls in the third phase of its multisite study.

A talk with Dr. Peterson found him in a more optimistic frame of mind than I’d seen before. While the promised funding package at the NIH hasn’t shown up yet, he was clearly impressed by the Nath Intramural study, the continuing work of the CDC, and the work Ron Davis is doing at the Open Medicine Foundation.

We didn’t talk about Ampligen and Rituximab but advances with both those drugs may make his job easier. Peterson’s stated that his patients have about a 70% response rate to Ampligen. That high percentage probably reflects two things: Dr. Peterson’s feel for who will respond to the drug, and his ability to dose this drug optimally for each patient.

At the IACFS/ME Conference, Hemispherx Biopharma will report a breakthrough in their understanding of the drug effects in ME/CFS. It appears that they’ve found a way to identify which ME/CFS patients respond to Ampligen – a finding that should help doctors and patients decide whether to try the drug, and make their next clinical trial that much easier. Dr. Patrick of Canada appears to have done the same with Rituximab – a very expensive powerful drug that many doctors are probably leery of trying in their patients without more guidance.

  • Dr. Peterson will be co-leading a session with Drs. Fluge and Mella on Rituximab and Emerging Treatments, and will be a panelist on a session devoted to diagnosing difficult cases of ME/CFS, and will be highlighting a fellowship opportunity with Simmaron, at the International IACFS/ME Conference at the end of October.

With groundbreaking spinal fluid publications, more collaborative studies lined up, and additional findings on their way to publication, the Simmaron Research Foundation (SRF) has made pivotal contributions to the rising science of ME/CFS in its first five years. The Simmaron Research Foundation is committed to translational research efforts that produce solid gains for patients. With collaborators like these, the next five years promise much.

Simmaron Research | Give | Donate | Scientifically Redefining ME/CFS

Dr. Peterson Talks – On Severely Ill Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients

November 23, 2015

(This blog was based on Dr. Peterson’s recent talk in Sweden. I added several sections such as the Mike Dessin interlude. They are outlined in parentheses.)

Dr. Daniel Peterson

Dr. Peterson was at the epicenter of Incline Village outbreak three decades ago that helped put chronic fatigue syndrome on the map. He’s been on the cutting edge of immunotherapies and antivirals ever since. He’s been using and gathering data on Ampligen for decades. He was the first to dare to use the powerful antiviral Vistide in ME/CFS and he used it successfully.

Dr. Peterson

Dr. Peterson has been treated people with ME/CFS for over 30 years.

Long before VO2 max exercise equipment showed up in ME/CFS experts offices he was using it. He saved his spinal fluid samples for decades waiting for the right investigator to show up. He was the first to recognize the possibility that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is increased in ME/CFS and pushed for studies.

His work with the Simmaron Research Institute has led him to collaborate with research groups around the world. A superb diagnostician, his recent characterization of ME/CFS patients into typical and atypical patients resulted in a successful spinal study – and introduced a subset researchers now need to be aware of. He and the Simmaron Research Institute produced the Immunology Workshop in an attempt to make immune testing a standard part of a physician’s protocol. He may have treated more people with ME/CFS than anyone else in the world.

Dr. Peterson recently spoke on severely ill ME/CFS in Sweden – a place he’s returned to again and again. Thankfully the Swedes have been videotaping their conferences for years. Let’s see what he had to say.

The Severely Ill

Peterson has a reputation for saying it like it is. He started off his talk stating that the really severely ill are like the elephant in the room everyone has danced around for years. Not because they’re not important but because so little is known about them. That, however, is changing.

Peterson pointed that prevalence estimates of the severely ill (25%) are simply guesses at this point. The really severely ill are so debilitated that they rare show up in doctor’s offices, and almost never participate in studies. They are often self-diagnosed and most lack insurance. Visits to the emergency room are rare simply because the emergency room has nothing to offer them and often makes them worse.

Interlude – Mike Dessin’s Story

Mike Dessin is one of the few severely ill ME/CFS patients to have fully recovered. He has an interesting tie-in with Dr. Peterson. When Mike was still relatively healthy he meet Dr. Peterson and afterwards sent his test results to him. Peterson never treated Mike but Mike’s test results were all wrong end and Peterson predicted Mike was in for rough times.

He couldn’t have been more correct. Mike’s health continued to worsen until he was forced to retreat first to his Dad’s house and finally, too sensitive to endure human company, into an apartment. For over a year Mike lived in a blacked out apartment room wearing eye shades even in the dark. He became unable to tolerate foods and became emaciated.

He’s provided a stunning account of what the very severely ill experience.

Dessin,-Mike---emaciatedI was completely bedridden and unable to lean up more than a few inches. I was unable to read, write, understand words when spoken too, or complete a thought process. I would not be able to tolerate touch, whispers or even be able to sustain a mere thought process without getting over stimulated!!! If I was pushed too far mentally I would have a seizure from the over-stimulation.

He believes the overstimulation problems are the most problematic severe ME/CFS patients face.

I believe by far this is the most debilitating and confining element of severe M.E. This is what drives people with M.E. into complete isolation.

Simply getting to a doctor’s office was challenging. Wearing eye shades and ear muffs he said:

“I crawled into my dad’s car. We arrived at the doctor’s office where I crawled my way into the lobby. I laid in the lobby until my name was called. Dad lifted me up onto the table and the doctor walked in. At this point I could only stay conscious when I was stimulated so he put his hands on my shoulders to awaken me.”

The first sign that Mike was beginning to recover was finding a blob of fat on his tush. He began to recognize the items around him, to tolerate light, eat and read short sentences.

Mike Dessin is living proof that it’s possible to go right up to the edge and almost fully recover. He’s also a living example of how difficult it is treat the severely ill.  Other patients visited his doctor yet none responded as Mike did.

Dr. Peterson’s characterization of the severe or very severe ill patients as being “bed bound” at some point in their illness brings up the question whether people who are bed bound at some point in their illness end up being the most difficult to treat. That idea would seem to fit the Dubbo findings which indicated that people with the most severe symptoms after an infection were most likely to come down with ME/CFS.

How sick did you get in the first couple of years – and how are you now? Take

Peterson noted, however, that ME/CFS is not unidirectional – that relapses and remissions can occur unpredictably.

(One of Dr. Peterson’s patients, Corinne Blandino, provides a poignant example of this unpredictability. When she first saw Dr. Peterson she had been wheelchair bound for many years. She improved to the point where she was able to get out and drive and travel but then suddenly and unexpectedly she relapsed. Later she was found to have a spinal fluid lesion.

A Health Rising survey indicated that a subset of patients experience dramatic remissions that are often at some point followed by relapses. Some have undergone several cycles of remissions and relapses.)

exhaustion

If you become bed bound at some point are you less likely to get better?

Peterson also noted that a CDC study found that unless significant recovery began in the first five years of the illness complete recovery is unlikely. When asked later about the importance of treating patients early he said it took him years to learn that the best approach with acute post-infection patients – people who have recently become ill – was to immediately aggressively treat them with immunoglobulin and antivirals.

What about longer term patients – the ones that are probably most prone to be severely ill. Dr. Horning cautioned that the CFI’s immune study showing drops in immune activity after three years needs to be replicated but suggested that immunomodulating drugs like Ampligen and Anakinra could be helpful in longer duration patients.

Dr. Peterson noted that the severely ill are the most difficult patients to treat and have the most guarded outcomes.

(Whitney Dafoe is a good example of how difficult to treat these patients can be. Whitney is located in the San Francisco Bay area – as ME/CFS knowledgeable a place as any. Whitney has had the resources to try many different options but all have failed and some have made him worse. The same was true for Mike Dessin. Glutathione IV’s, alpha lipoic acid and other detoxification treatments that have been helpful for some patients left him worse off and may have set the stage for his almost complete relapse.

Neither were rapid onset either. While both probably had infectious onset their slide to debilitating health was a gradual one. They just kept slipping backwards.

Many doctors probably don’t know where to start and are probably justifiably worried if they treat the severely ill aggressively they’re going to do something to kill them. These patients are delicate in the extreme.)

Basic Support

Dr. Peterson stated, however, there are basic things any doctor can do. Hydration, nutrition, appropriate physical therapy and “intervention based on present pathophysiology” are standard approaches to ME/CFS that can be employed. He recommended the Primer for Clinical Practitioners produced by the IACFS/ME for a good symptom by symptom approach to ME/CFS.

Peterson cautioned that rigorous pacing and energy conservation should not be considered the only treatments but strongly recommended them. He’s found the use of heart rate and blood pressure monitoring devices such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch to be helpful in keeping patients “in the zone”.

saline-chronic-fatigue-syndrome

Regular use of saline can be helpful. A study underway will tell us more about salines effect on ME/CFS.

The effects of immobilization can be high. He recommend simple stretching to reduce muscle atrophy and joint problems; saline, midodrine and florinef to combat orthostatic intolerance; and IV nutrition to combat malnutrition. Peterson stated that he starts IV nutrition early.

Turning off the TV, reducing exposure to computer screens, wearing sunglasses, etc. can help with over stimulation.

In the discussion period Dr. Peterson said the question he always asks all patients is what is the one symptom you want most dealt with – just don’t choose fatigue. If brain-fog is a big problem he uses brain scans (SPECT, MRI) to inform his treatment options.  Increased intracranial pressure might lead to the use of Diamox, inflammation could trigger the use of anti-inflammatories, brainstem problems could result in Nuvigil or even amphetamine-based drugs. If orthostatic problems show up that interfere with blood flows to the brain Dr. Peterson said he goes after those aggressively.

When asked about long term anti-inflammatory therapy Dr. Peterson said he’s seen good short-term responses (increased energy and mental clarity) with steroids but worried about their long term effects.  He hasn’t had much experience with fecal transplants to assess them but feels he’s seen enough people trying stem cell transplants to suggest they’re not a viable option.

Drugs

Ampligen

The good news on the drug front is that Ampligen has been approved for use in Europe and Turkey. Ampligen is an immune stimulator and antiviral that’s been approved for limited use in the U.S. since 1988. It’s not easy to get, though, and is quite expensive. It’s one of the few drugs shown to increase NK cell activity. Dr. Peterson gave Ampligen a strong endorsement stating that it’s the only therapy he’s seen in his three decades of work that’s been able to return ME/CFS patients to full health. He gets about a 70% response rate (not all of which get such strong results.)

Anakinra

IL01B

Dr. Peterson believes cytokine blockers could be helpful.

Anakinra – a soon to begin placebo-controlled, double-blinded trial in the Netherlands, Anakinra presents an intriguing possibility. Anakinra blocks the production of two cytokines, IL-1b and TNF-a, that are greatly increased in some ME/CFS patients. A safe drug, Dr. Peterson saw no reason not to test it and other cytokine blockers on the market right now.

(The Anakinra sudy authors noted that concentrations of cytokines in the blood rarely reflect what is happening in the brain. They proposed, therefore that the only way to accurately assess a cytokine’s contributions to a disease is to block them using drugs and see what happens.

Rituximab and Cytoxan

He also pointed to the Rituximab and Cytoxan trials now underway in Norway as possible treatments.

Caregivers are an incredibly important factor for the severely ill. Dr. Peterson encouraged caregivers to get more support for themselves, to take time for themselves and get counseling if necessary.

Hope for the Future

Open Medicine Foundation Study – Dr. Peterson highlighted the Ron Davis/Open Medicine Foundation severely ill big data study and proposed that ME/CFS’s signature does indeed burn more brightly in them. While welcoming it, he added some cautions regarding the small sample size and the enormous data set that will be generated.

He added that newer technologies such as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) will enable more and more patients to be assessed more cheaply. (Ron Davis has reported that most of the methodological issues the study posed have been taken care and the study will begin soon.)

CDC Study – The huge, (huge) CDC multisite study will search the serum and saliva of 800 people (!) for biomarkers using RNA/DNA analysis and other techniques. This phase will also include 40 severely ill patients. That’s just five people per site but these patients are hard to find, and Peterson said that even his office was having trouble finding them.

Australian Work – The Australians are also beginning to differentiate immunological markers in the severely ill from moderately ill and healthy controls.

The Lipkin/Hornig CFI immune study Dr. Peterson and the Simmaron Research Foundation participated in suggested that longer duration patients – who are probably more likely to be severely ill – may suffer from immune exhaustion. That finding needs to be replicated but if its true immune enhancers may be more likely to help the more severely ill.

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Simmaron’s Spinal Fluid Study Finds Dramatic Differences in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

April 3, 2015

“Our results indicate a markedly disturbed immune signature in the CSF of ME/CFS subjects that is consistent with immune activation in the CNS.”

Dr. Mady Hornig, Director of Translation Research, Columbia University

The Hornig/Lipkin lab at Columbia University is involved in numerous ME/CFS studies

Columbia University just published groundbreaking results of the first spinal fluid study to compare ME/CFS with Multiple Sclerosis and healthy controls. For almost his entire career treating CFS patients, Dr. Daniel Peterson has been working toward this day.

Simmaron Research, founded by Dr. Peterson, was a key collaborator in this study, along with Konstance Knox Ph.D. of Coppe Healthcare. Drs. Peterson and Knox provided the spinal fluid samples, and Simmaron’s Research Manager Gunnar Gottschalk did clinical coordination. Drs. Mady Hornig (lead author) and Ian Lipkin (senior author), who run Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity, designed the study and led the sample and data analyses. Many thanks are due all the collaborators and especially  the Chronic Fatigue Initiative and Evans Foundation for funding this novel work.

Molecular Psychiatry. 2015 Mar 31. doi: 10.1038/mp.2015.29. [Epub ahead of print]Cytokine network analysis of cerebrospinal fluid in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Hornig M1, Gottschalk G2, Peterson DL2, Knox KK3, Schultz AF4, Eddy ML4, Che X4, Lipkin WI5.

Cerebral spinal fluid is a colorless fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spine. Constantly being produced and absorbed it is fully replaced about four times a day. It provides immunological protection and removes metabolic wastes from the brain.

Lumbar punctures such as those used in this study are primarily used to diagnose neurological disorders.

cerebral spinal fluid

Cerebral spinal fluid protects and removes metabolic wastes from the brain

In several ways, this study distinguished itself from other spinal fluid studies in chronic fatigue syndrome. It examined a more comprehensive cytokine panel (n=51), did more sophisticated statistical analyses (logistic regression/network analysis) and included a multiple sclerosis group as a control. With ninety-one subjects, it was a large sample size for a spinal fluid study (32 ME/CFS patients, 40 MS patients, 19 controls) and it was suitably complex.

Highly Significant Results

Major differences were found. With all the central nervous system problems present in MS, we expect MS would be different from healthy controls. The levels of over half of the cytokines tested (26/51) in the MS group vs the controls were significantly different. An almost equal degree of difference, however, also occurred in the ME/CFS group. Almost half the immune factors tested (23/51) were significantly different in the ME/CFS patients relative to the healthy controls.

Highly significant differences in immune factor levels (p<.0003 or less) were found in 13 cytokines in MS group vs healthy controls, in 4 cytokines in ME/CFS vs healthy controls, and in 8 cytokines comparing ME/CFS to MS.

Immune Exhaustion

reduced immune factors in chronic fatigue syndrome

Most immune molecules were lower in both the ME/CFS and MS patients

The immune system is a complex place. Cytokines have a role in both producing and controlling inflammation. Some evidence points to ME/CFS being an inflammatory disorder, and there’s no doubt that multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory disorder. Interestingly, the cytokine levels in the MS  patients spinal fluid were even lower than those in the ME/CFS patients.

In general both MS patients and ME/CFS trended in the same direction – mostly reduced cytokine levels relative to the controls – but the immune dysregulation was very different. With twenty-three immune factors differing between the ME/CFS and MS patients, a case could be made that the ME/CFS and MS groups differed the most immunologically. The researchers stated ME/CFS patients demonstrated a “markedly greater degree of CNS immune activation” than the MS group.

People in the current study had had chronic fatigue syndrome for about seven years. The relatively low cytokine levels found parallel those found in the longer duration patients in the large blood cytokine study the Columbia researchers recently completed.

“I think what we’re seeing is an immune system exhaustion over time,” Dr. Hornig speculated in HealthDay.

Chemokines, Infections and CNS Damage

Scientists at Columbia … identified a unique pattern of immune molecules in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) that provides insights into the basis for cognitive dysfunction—frequently described by patients as “brain fog”

Chemokines are of special interest in neuroinflammation because these very small proteins regulate immune cell entry into the brain. When an infection occurs, they draw immune cells into the brain by increasing the permeability of the brain blood barrier. The microglia and astrocytes are the primary chemokine producers in the brain.

Infection or demyelination possible in ME/CFS

High CXCL10 levels have been associated with infection or demyelination

Two chemokines (CCL11 and CXCL10) were increased in both the MS and ME/CFS groups with much higher levels of both found in the MS group.

CXCL10 clears the way for the entry of natural killer cells and T lymphocytes into the brain. It is often prominently expressed in the CNS in response to viral infection.

As always the immune system walks a fine line. Too little chemokine expression and a deadly infection can take root. Too much chemokine expression and brain damage and seizures can result. While CXCL10 plays an important role in combating viral infections, excessive CXCL10 levels can cause neuron die off and trigger a immune-mediated demyelinating disease.

Demyelination is a major problem in MS but is only a possibility at this point in ME/CFS. A small recent Stanford study suggested myelin abnormalities along with white matter atrophy may be present in ME/CFS. .

Not surprisingly, CXLC10 clearly has an impact on symptoms. Neutralizing CXCL10 even during a persistent infection can greatly reduce symptom severity.

Allergic Response, Eotaxin and Brain Fog

“These immune findings may contribute to symptoms in both the peripheral parts of the body and the brain, from muscle weakness to brain fog.” Dr. Mady Hornig

IL1ra is supposed to tamp down an allergic response as well. The network analysis in this study suggests that it’s not working so well in ME/CFS patients. The inverse relationship between IL1ra and CSF2 (GMCSF) levels in the ME/CFS patients, indeed, suggested an allergic response was underway. Reduced CSF2 levels were found in a prior ME/CFS spinal fluid study as well.

Then there is eotaxin (CCLII). Eotaxin recruits white blood cells called eosinophils that are involved in producing an allergic response in the brain. The logistic regression suggested increased levels of eotaxin (and decreased levels of IL1b) are highly associated with “ME/CFS caseness”.

eotaxin chronic fatigue syndrome

Eotaxin has been associated with cognitive declines and reduced neuron growth in mice.

Eotaxin is not a chemokine one particularly wants to have around. Increased eotaxin levels have been associated with impaired learning, memory deficits and reduced neuron production in mice as they age. Introducing eotaxin into the CNS of young mice reduces neuron production. (At the last IACFS/ME Conference, the CDC reported reduced telomere length – another possible sign of increased aging – was present in ME/CFS.)

“…we now identify systemic immune-related factors (eotaxin) as potentially critical contributors to the susceptibility of the aging brain to cognitive impairments”. Villeda et. al. 2011 – From a mouse study published in Nature

One doesn’t think of allergy in terms of the central nervous system, but the authors reported that allergic processes could be indicative of a central nervous system infection. The chemokines upregulated in the ME/CFS patient’s spinal fluid have been associated with microglial activation and central nervous system infections.As the publication notes, “Persistent secretion of cytokines by activated microglia, brain immune cells of macrophage-monocyte lineage, may contribute to this pattern.”

Networks Awry

“The inverse relationship we found between IL1ra and CSF2 in the CSF of cases using a network analysis approach suggests that neuroimmune responses may be shifted toward allergic or Th2 (autoimmune) patterns in the CNS of individuals with ME/CFS.”

The Hornig/Lipkin team also found evidence of disturbed “networking” in ME/CFS; i.e. immune cells communicating strangely. IL-1ra is an interleukin that prevents cells with IL-1 receptors from producing the powerful pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1A or IL-1B. It stops that part of the immune response in its tracks, but the network analysis suggested it wasn’t doing that in ME/CFS.

Summing Up

  1.  The fact that the alterations in the immune factors in the ME/CFS were almost as extreme as in multiple sclerosis – a disorder characterized by severe central nervous system dysfunction –  suggests a major pathology is present in the central nervous systems of ME/CFS patients.
  2. The low cytokine levels suggest that some sort of immune exhaustion –  caused by an infection or by immune upregulation – is present in ME/CFS.  These findings parallel those of the recent Hornig/Lipkin study suggesting that  immune up regulation early in the disorder may lead to immune burnout later on.
  3. Several of the immune factors in the ME/CFS patients spinal fluid suggest an allergic type of reaction may be occurring in their CNS. A similar finding is also found in some central nervous system infections; i.e. an infection could be driving this process.
  4. The immune factor most identified with the ME/CFS patients has been associated with cognitive declines, aging and reduced neuron production.

Moving Forward

“Diagnosis of ME/CFS is now based on clinical criteria. Our findings offer the hope of objective diagnostic tests for disease as well as the potential for therapies that correct the imbalance in cytokine levels seen in people with ME/CFS at different stages of their disease,” adds W. Ian Lipkin, MD, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity.

Daniel Peterson

Dr. Daniel Peterson

Early on, MS didn’t have biomarkers or diagnostic tests, and it had skeptics like CFS does. Later it was diagnosed by specific proteins in spinal fluid. Now there are FDA-approved treatments.

ME/CFS patients often have central nervous system symptoms, like cognitive dysfunction, balance problems, and nerve and pain issues. Those symptoms convinced Dr. Peterson many years ago that spinal fluid may hold the key to understanding the disease. His perseverance helped make this study possible.

Columbia University’s press release stated:

“There is precedent for use of human monoclonal antibodies that regulate the immune response in a wide range of disorders from rheumatoid arthritis to multiple sclerosis. However, the researchers note, additional work will be needed to assess the safety and efficacy of this approach.”

We need more research to translate these unprecedented findings into diagnostics and treatments.

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Dr. Peterson Reviews State of Medicine and Science of ME/CFS

Watch Dr. Peterson as he reviews the state of medicine and science of ME/CFS in a presentation to Swedish health officials: