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

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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

Ian Lipkin: Three to Five Years* to Solve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)

December 26, 2015

Ian Lipkin flew to Lake Tahoe this December to fundraise for work he’s doing with the Simmaron Research Foundation. In a talk covering his virus hunting career, the threat of pathogens to humanity, and his work with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), he dropped a bombshell: he stated that he believes it’s possible to solve ME/CFS in three to five years. 

On that hopeful note, let’s learn more about Dr. Lipkin, his work, and his collaborations with Simmaron.

Dr. Peterson’s Introduction

Lipkin’s Columbia Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) has established close ties with the Simmaron Research Foundation. Only a couple of months before, his chief collaborator, Mady Hornig (and Simmaron Scientific Advisory Board member) had given a talk.  Now Ian Lipkin was here.

Dr. Peterson started his introduction of Ian Lipkin by noting that he’d known him since they crossed paths in the 1980’s when Dr. Peterson sent him patients suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Lipkin has changed the ways researchers identify pathogens

Lipkin has changed the ways researchers identify pathogens

Ian Lipkin began a new era in pathogen detection when he became the first researcher to isolate a virus (Borna disease virus) using genetics.  He identified the West Nile Virus that had throw New York City into a panic, developed technologies to identify SARS and then hand carried 10,000 test kits to Beijing at the height of the outbreak. He most recently discovered a highly dangerous virus that recently jumped into humans called MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus).

Lipkin has pioneered many technological breakthroughs in finding pathogens including the use of MassTag-PCR, the GreeneChip Diagnostic, and High Throughput Sequencing. His latest breakthrough is the development of a new screening technique that enhances researchers ability to find viruses 10,000 fold.

Called the top virus hunter in the world, Ian Lipkin runs the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia, and is the director of the Center for Research in Diagnostics and Discovery (CRDD) at the NIH. He also worked closely with Steven Soderbergh on his film Contagion.

Ian Lipkin Talks

Who says brilliant scientists can’t be a hoot to listen to as well? Ian Lipkin’s presentation was both enlightening and at times hilarious. Exhibiting a wry sense of humor, Lipkin poked fun at himself and virtually everyone around him.

The last time he was in Lake Tahoe, he said, was in 1984 and he hearkened back to the HIV/AIDS patients Dr. Peterson sent him in the early 1980’s.

“When you come to a fork in the road – take it!”

He stated the guiding principle in the search for pathogens could be summed up by the great Yogi Berra’s adage “When you come to a fork in the road – take it!”.

HIV/AIDS was the beginning of many changes. Even after the medical community knew it was being passed in the blood it still took them 2 1/2 years to find it. (In a Discover interview,  Lipkin noted that he ran the first clinic in San Francisco that would treat HIV/AIDS (then called GRID) patients with neurological problems. Note an iconoclastic element to Lipkin that showed up early in his career: he was willing to see patients others wouldn’t. Check out Lipkin’s fascinating story of how HIV/AIDS lead to him to study infectious diseases.)

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Lipkin first showed a willingness to support underserved groups early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic

Lipkin then worked on a virus which demonstrated the effects a persistent viral infection can have on the central nervous system.

Next, in another story with possible overtones for chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), he investigated patients who’d come down with what appeared to be a mysterious psychiatric disorder. It took him two years but using a new method involving genetic cloning he uncovered the Borna disease virus. It was the first virus discovered using genetic means.

The Borna virus discovery was a game-changer for pathogen community. Jump forward thirty years(after it took the medical community almost three years to find HIV, and viruses are being discovered using molecular means every week. The Center for Infection and Immunity itself discovered 700 new viruses from 2009-2015.

Lipkin was aware of and interested in ME/CFS in the eighties but there was no money. In 1999 he and Britta Evangaard found no evidence of the Borna disease virus in ME/CFS. From there we jump forward to 2010 when NIH Director Francis Collins tasked Lipkin to determine if a retrovirus, XMRV, was causing ME/CFS. XMRV turned out to be a laboratory artifact, and the paper was retracted – something Lipkin said was not all that unusual in science. (He emphasized that he and Dr. Peterson were very careful to put out studies that would stand the test of time.)

The XMRV discovery tanked but proved to be a boon for ME/CFS by heightening the attention around it. Lipkin had kept an eye on ME/CFS for years and after being hired by the Chronic Fatigue Initiative to take it on, he was back in a big way.

In the next portion of his talk he turned to viruses and humans.

Viruses and Humans

How are most viruses getting into humans? From animals. After it’s jump from primates to humans, HIV is, of course, the most familiar example, but viruses are also escaping from bats, birds, pigs, rodents, insects and even camels into humans.

A sea change in the viral field occurred in 1999 when a mosquito-borne virus – the West Nile Virus – had the audacity to attack the residents of the New York City. Lipkin shifted his work from the West to East coasts to search for the virus and ultimately identified it. As the outbreak spread, it got the attention of Senator Joesph Lieberman who sponsored the first big initiative to learn how viruses spread from animals to humans. Politicians, Lipkin noted, can be important allies.

Infections

Most pathogens have yet to be identified by humans.

New York City may be an ideal transit stop for new viruses. Twenty-one million passengers traveling to and from 72 countries pass through New York city airports every year. Animal products including bushmeat – all potentially contaminated with nasty viruses – pour into New York City regularly.

Many more viruses are undiscovered than have been discovered. A survey of one species of bats found fifty-five viruses, fifty of which were new to science. Lipkin estimated 320,000 viruses were still unknown and they’re bumping up against humans all the time. Lipkin next demonstrated how quickly they can jump from animals into humans.

Bats –  Called to investigate an ill Saudi Arabian man (with four wives), he uncovered a new virus called MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) similar to those found in bats. (Asked if there were any bats in the area, he was told no. The next video showed bats flying every which way in the area :)). If the bats weren’t biting the humans, though, how was the bat virus jumping into people?

Lipkin found MERS was present in about 75% of the camels in the country. Further research indicated that MERS jumped into camels in the 1990’s, and then rapidly escaped into humans around 2010.

MERS

Since its escape into humans around 2010 MERS has spread to 26 countries.

MERS is not particularly easy to transmit but once it gets transmitted, watch out. Death rates are high. It took just one Saudi Arabian to spread MERS to South Korea this year where it killed several dozen people, put several thousand others into quarantine and basically threw the country into a panic. Schools were closed, tourists stopped coming, and parts of the economy slumped as South Korea fought off the virus. It has since been found in 26 countries. It’s the kind of virus that keeps public health officials up at night.

It’s not surprising that Lipkin is wary of pathogens. He noted that he rarely shakes hands but darting a glance at Dr. Peterson said he’d made an exception that evening.

(If you haven’t seen Steven Soderbergh film “Contagion” and can handle apocalyptic scenario’s you might want to give it a try. Lipkin consulted extensively on the movie which involved a worst-case scenario of a virus wiping out much of humanity. The film was praised for its scientific accuracy. (Spoiler alert – we do survive in the end :)).

Ticks –  Coming closer to home Lipkin believes chronic Lyme patients who are not recovering from antibiotics may have gotten another infection from the ticks. He found that over 70% of the Ixodes scapularis ticks associated with Lyme disease carried at least one pathogen and 30% carried more than one in New York. Last year he identified a rhabdovirus (Long Island tick rhabdovirus) new not just to ticks but to science itself. A small survey suggested that 15% of residents may carry antibodies to the virus.

Rats- Lipkin’s  study of New York City’s second most common resident – rats – revealed they carried an amazing array of pathogens including Escherichia coli, Clostridium difficile, and Salmonella enterica, Bartonella spp., Streptobacillus moniliformis, Leptospira interrogans, and Seoul hantavirus.

In one of his many asides (did you know he loves Sinatra?) Lipkin referred to the hamburger and French fries lunch that he and Peterson  usually have. (“Do as we say not as we do” he said). How does Lipkin reportedly like his meat? “Burn it” he tells the waiter. The man is taking no chances – he knows too much.

Infection and Disease

timing-infections-lipkin

The timing of an infection is just one of many factors that determine the effects it will have.

A pathogen is just one of the players, however, in a vast swirl of factors which ultimately determines whether one is going to have a chronic illness. Timing, for instance, is a key factor.

If you expose a mouse to a pathogen at one stage of pregnancy, it’ll stop moving around its cage. If you expose the same mouse to the same pathogen later in pregnancy, it will run round and around its cage unceasingly.

A large autism study underscored the complex role timing plays in humans. The 120,000 person autism birth cohort study found that if a mother comes down with a fever after the first trimester, her chances of giving birth to a son with autism go up three-fold.  If she treats the fever with acetaminophen, her chances of giving birth to an autistic child drop significantly.  If she takes acetaminophen for any other problem than a fever, her risk of giving birth to an autistic child goes up again.

Three to Five Years – An ME/CFS Timeline

How does all this relate to ME/CFS? Likpin cited the findings of their work to date.

  • The suspected pathogens don’t appear to be the problem (the CII is reportedly looking further at herpesviruses.)
  • Evidence suggests altered microbiomes (gut flora) are present
  • Striking differences in immune expression between shorter and longer duration patients suggest profound immune changes have occurred
  • Preliminary evidence suggests that levels “X” and “Y” metabolites and, at least, one immune protein are significantly altered in ME/CFS. (Lipkin embargoed this information pending publication of the paper. One of them is a shocker.)

Lipkin emphasized, though, that ME/CFS is not a one-size fits all disease. For instance, it’s possible that fungi may be a problem for some patients. That’s an intriguing idea given the recent fungi funding in Alzheimer’s disease published in Nature.

Lipkin timeline chronic fatigue syndrome

Lipkin’s timeline for solving ME/CFS given enough resources – a mere three to five years.

Then Lipkin made his bold declaration “We’re going to solve this in three to five years”. It came with a significant proviso “provided the resources are made available” but indicated that he believes ME/CFS is a mystery that can be cracked fairly quickly.  That sounds really fast, but Lipkin’s time-frame is not that far off from Ronald Davis’s 5-10 year time-frame (provided he gets the resources as well.) (or Dr. Montoya’s).

These eminent researchers believe that given the technology present today we could understand ME/CFS fairly quickly – if enough resources were brought to bear.  Lipkin pointed to a slate of researchers in his lab working on ME/CFS to signify the major shift he’s seen happen in just the last couple of years. He said “I couldn’t have gotten them five years ago”.

He highlighted two places the patient community can make an impact:

  • Funding Pilot Studies –   The community can fund pilot studies which can be turned into big grants
  • Advocacy – Lipkin is a savvy researcher. He knows how the NIH works, and once again he emphasized the need for the ME/CFS community to push harder legislatively – to talk to their representatives in the House of Representatives, in particular – and get them to push the NIH for more funding.

Lipkin’s Bucket List

Ian Lipkin has clearly developed a special relationship with ME/CFS, Dr. Peterson, the Simmaron Research Institute. He hadn’t been in the Lake Tahoe area for decades, yet he and two of his assistants had flown across the country to support the Simmaron Research Institute’s spinal fluid work. He was even shaking hands.

lipkin bucket list chronic fatigue

Lipkin’s Bucket List contains two items: solving ME/CFS is one of them.

I shook my head – not for the first time – about Ian Lipkin. How had we gotten so lucky? Lipkin oversees the work of 65 researchers in the U.S. and 150 more across the globe. The New York Times reported that on any given day his lab had 140 viral research projects underway. The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Anthony Fauci said, “Lipkin really stands out from the crowd.”

Yet, here he was in the Lake Tahoe area in mid-December exhorting the audience to support an important Simmaron study that he believed needed funding.

What had driven the “The World’s Most Celebrated Virus Hunter” to take on our disease? I asked his assistants. They told me that Ian Lipkin wants to do two things more than anything else before he retires: he wants to solve ME/CFS, and he wants to solve autism. We’re on his bucket list.

That floored me even more (:)) so I asked – but, but…..doesn’t  he care what other people think about this neglected disease? That question left them almost gasping for breath. After they had been able to calm down, they assured me: no Ian Lipkin doesn’t care.

The Simmaron Research Foundation’s Next Spinal Fluid Study

Lipkin was at the event to support the Simmaron Research Institute’s next spinal fluid study. The results of the first one – the most extensive spinal fluid study ever done in ME/CFS – were eye-opening. Using Dr. Peterson’s suggestion to separate atypical from typical ME/CFS patients, and focusing on patients with a longer duration illness, they’d found evidence of an immune dysregulation almost equal to that found in MS. The difference was that instead of being raised, the cytokine levels were reduced in ME/CFS.

That finding surely left a big smile on Lipkin’s and Hornig’s faces.  Earlier they’d found evidence of a profound reduction in immune functioning in the blood of later-duration ME/CFS patients.  Now a similar reduction was showing up in their spinal fluid. These unprecedented findings suggested they were uncovering system-wide problems.

No wonder Lipkin was eager to begin a new and larger spinal fluid study: it’s part of achieving his bucket list.

SR_Donate_6.9.14_1

Triple Your Support! – Between now and Dec 31 triple your support for Ian Lipkin’s work with the Simmaron Research Foundation (SRF). A generous donor is offering to match $2 for every $1 donated before Dec 31. The funds will support the SRF’s collaborations with Drs. Ian Lipkin and Mady Hornig at Columbia University.

 

Tea Time at Simmaron Pt II: The Infectious Cluster Study

KKnox

Konstance Knox, PhD Chair, Simmaron’s Scientific Advisory Board

In a recent  Simmaron Tea event, Simmaron’s research collaborators talked about their work to propel discovery in our disease. In Part 2 of our summary, we review Dr. Konstance Knox’s presentation on her collaboration to identify insect-borne pathogens in ME/CFS patients.

Dr. Knox, CEO of Coppe Healthcare Solutions, is a longtime collaborator of Simmaron Research and Dr. Daniel Peterson. A contributor to Simmaron’s spinal fluid studies, she has done years of viral testing and research in patients with ME/CFS and other diseases.

Dr. Konstance Knox – Insect-Borne Diseases and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

From malaria to dengue fever to Lyme disease, “vector-borne”  (primarily mosquito and tick-borne) illnesses are among the more difficult challenges facing the medical community. While they are often associated with developing countries, people in the U.S. are not immune from them. Over 20 insect-borne illnesses occur in the U.S. and more are emerging.  A new tick-borne virus (Heartland Virus) was recently identified in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. and the dangerous tick-borne Pawossan virus was recently found in the eastern U.S. The first case of West Nile Virus in the Western Hemisphere was identified in New York in 1999. Five years later it was found in every state of the Union.

Bacteria ME/CFS

Many pathogens have been associated with ME/CFS but no one has looked at insect borne pathogens until now.

We know that infectious onset of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) commonly occurs. We know it can be triggered by many different types of infections (Epstein-Barr virus, parvovirus, Giardia, SARS, hepatitis, etc.).

No study, however, has examined the extent of insect triggered illness or looked for regional clusters of such illnesses in chronic fatigue syndrome – until now.

Simmaron Research and Dr. Knox were awarded residual samples from the NIH XMRV study to comprehensively assess the incidence of insect-borne illnesses in ME/CFS patients across the U.S. Dr. Konstance Knox will lead the first study allowed to use the rigorously collected and characterized samples from the XMRV study.

The study builds on historical associations with ME/CFS that have been bypassed in recent years.

History Repeating Itself?

Insect-borne pathogens by their nature tend to form clusters of illness, and chronic fatigue syndrome, of course, first became well-known when clusters popped up in Incline Village/Lake Tahoe, Lyndonville and other cities in the early 1980’s. Dr. Knox reported that since 1934 at least 12 clusters have been identified in the U.S. including six in the Lake Tahoe region alone.

culex mosquito

Could your “flu” have come from a mosquito?

Over the past 20 years there’s been little focus on clusters.  From the Norwegian Giardia and Canadian SARS to the Ebolavirus outbreaks, however, every significant infectious outbreak has left behind a cluster of ME/CFS-like patients.

This study will look for clusters of regional insect-borne illnesses in ME/CFS patients in the U.S.  It is driven by the hypothesis that for some people the “flu” they never got over was not caused by some innocuous cold bug but resulted from a mosquito or tick bite.

Comprehensiveness is a keyword for this study. Now only will it involve hundreds of ME/CFS patients from across the U.S., it will also examine almost all possible insect-borne illnesses found in the U.S. including some that are rarely studied.  Studies of this size and scope have rarely been done in ME/CFS. The pathogens tested for include:

Tick-borne Pathogens

  • Borrelia burgdorferi – Ixodes scapularis, I. pacificus –found across  the U.S.
  • Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) – Europe and Russia, poorly studied in U.S.
  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum – Ixodes scapularis, I. pacificus – mostly eastern U.S.
  • Ehrlichia chaffeensis – Lone Star Tick – southeastern/southcentral U.S.
  • Babesia microti – Ixodes scapularis – northeastern/midwestern U.S.
  • Rickettsia rickettsia – American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) – across the U.S.
  • Coxiella burnetii – associated with cattle/goats/sheep – spread through dust – across the U.S.

Mosquito-borne Pathogens

  • West Nile Virus (WNV) – across the U.S.
  • Dengue Virus (DENV) – southeastern U.S./Texas
  • Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV) – eastern U.S.
  • Western Equine Encephalitis Virus (WEEV) – west of the Mississippi
  • Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV) – eastern and central U.S.
  • California Encephalitis Virus (CEV) – California
  • La Crosse Virus (LCV) – California

Possibly High Misdiagnosis Rates

Dr. Knox believes misdiagnosis rates of these infections could be high. Some are poorly studied and most doctors don’t know about many of them, anyway.  Plus unless severe symptoms are present many are rarely tested for . Sudden seizures or blindness may get you tested for West Nile virus, for instance, but more moderate flu-like symptoms it often produces probably will not.

Lyme disease map

Lyme disease is endemic in several parts of the U.S.

Post-infectious fatigue states following insect-borne infections appear to be common. Over 50% of people with an active West Nile Virus infection still experienced fatigue, cognitive problems, headaches and muscle weakness eighteen months later.  Dengue fever, which has re-emerged in the southeastern United States is known to leave behind an ME/CFS-like condition in some patients. Descriptions of virtually all these infections note the “long-term sequelae”; i.e. the long term effects they can leave behind.

Resolving a Medical Mystery?

Plus, a virus like tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) could hold a clue to controversy that’s roiled the medical profession. Different groups assert that Lyme disease is either a) a relatively rare disease that responds well to antibiotics or b) a common disease that often does not respond to antibiotics and often persists in a chronic state.

Ticked Off? Simmaron is doing the research.

But what if they’re both looking in the wrong place? What if that tick bite transmitted a different infection along with the Borrelia – an infection that is resistant to antibiotics? Could the chronic Lyme disease patients are suffering from be a different, undiagnosed tick-borne illness?

Konstance Knox believes a good candidate may be tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV).  TBEV is common in Europe and Asia but has been inadequately studied in the U.S.  It can produce fatigue that can persist for years and it can be transmitted quickly.  People who pluck off a tick before it’s been on them for 24 hours may be relieved that it hasn’t transmitted Borrelia, but TBEV– which is almost never tested for in the U.S. – can be transmitted in fifteen minutes.

Simmaron Research | Give | Donate | Scientifically Redefining ME/CFS Dr. Knox believes she will find a much greater prevalence of exposure to insect borne infections than anyone expects at this point. She hopes this will be the first of many studies examining these illnesses.

Associating ME/CFS with an increased prevalence of insect borne infections would, of course, further legitimize the disease, but the most intriguing impact of the study may be the recognition that some people have undiagnosed but treatable insect borne illnesses.

Resolving a Medical Catch-22

Patients with chronic Lyme disease and those with ME/CFS both suffer from a medical catch-22. If antibiotics don’t return people with Lyme disease to health it’s assumed they have psychological problems. On the flip side, if test results from patients with ME/CFS don’t indicate a recognized disease is present, then their illness must be in their heads as well.

Maybe, just maybe, an infection triggered by a recognized (or unrecognized) pathogen set disturbed the immune systems of both sets of chronically ill patients.

The Simmaron Research Institute believes research holds the answers patients need. This study is the first step. Join Simmaron’s quest for answers.

If you missed Part 1 of our review, find it here:  Tea-Time at Simmaron I: Mady Hornig on the “Peterson Subsets”, Immune Exhaustion and New Gut Findings In ME/CFS

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Tea-Time at Simmaron I: Mady Hornig on the “Peterson Subsets”, Immune Exhaustion and New Gut Findings In ME/CFS

The Simmaron Research Foundation is out to redefine ME/CFS scientifically.  In an recent event called A Simmaron Tea, collaborators talked with patients about their recent work to propel discovery in our disease. Part 1 of our summary will review Dr. Mady Hornig’s presentation, including some early results from Columbia’s ongoing gut studies. Part 2 will summarize Dr. Konstance Knox’s study of mosquito and tick-borne pathogens in ME/CFS patients. Stay tuned!

Simmaron has collaborated with Dr. Hornig on half a dozen studies unfolding the immuological anomalies in ME/CFS. A doctor-scientist by training, she is Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Director of Translational Research at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.Simmaron Research | Scientifically Redefining ME CFS | #ShakeTheCFSstigmaSimmaron’s collaborations with Columbia on spinal fluid studies mark our signature contribution to ME/CFS research. Simmaron is continuing this research by funding a second phase of this work to compare metabolomics and proteomics in ME/CFS and MS patients.

Mady Hornig

“We now know that the same changes to the immune system that we recently reported in the blood of people with ME/CFS with long-standing disease are also present in the central nervous system,” Dr. Hornig

In her presentation, Dr. Hornig first reviewed the recent finding from the Chronic Fatigue Initiative-funded study run by the Columbia team: massive immune up regulation in short duration ME/CFS patients and immune down regulation in longer duration ME/CFS patients.  The same immune factors, interestingly enough, that were upregulated early in the illness were squashed later in the illness. One key viral fighter called IFN-y that was hugely important in early ME/CFS but significantly down regulated in later ME/CFS pointed an arrow at a process called “immune exhaustion”.

Immune Exhaustion

collaboration

The blood and spinal fluid findings matched

The first cerebrospinal fluid study using Dr. Peterson’s carefully collated samples found a similar pattern of immune system down regulation. That study (supported by CFI and Evans Foundation) included only longer duration patients.  These two studies – the first to find similar issues in these two different compartments of the body – suggested that the immune system had taken a system wide punch to the gut.

What could cause this kind of immune exhaustion?  Dr. Hornig stated it’s usually associated with chronic infections. In a scenario reminiscent of the wired and tired problem in ME/CFS, the immune system gets revved up, stays revved up and ultimately crashes.

That nice concurrence between immune findings in the spinal fluid and in the blood was encouraging, and the group is digging deeper into those CSF samples. Thus far a factor called cortisol binding globulin (CBG) has popped up in protein analyses. This intriguing factor which facilitates the transport of cortisol in the blood, has shown up in chronic fatigue syndrome before and families with certain polymorphisms in their CBG genes have increased fatigue and low blood pressure.

The Peterson Subsets

Earlier, Dr. Hornig noted Dr. Peterson’s exceptional foresight at collecting cerebrospinal fluid samples over many years and his skill at characterizing them. Now she appeared almost dumbfounded at his ability to pluck out subsets in his patients. At Dr. Peterson’s urging, the Columbia team examined the cerebrospinal fluid of what he called “classical” ME/CFS patients and “complex atypical” patients. Dr. Peterson has been talking about the “classical” set of ME/CFS patients vs other types of patients for years, but this was the first time his intuition was put to the test.

subsets ME/CFS

Finding subsets was crucial to the success of both studies

The classical patients typically present with infectious onset while ME/CFS in the atypical patients has been associated with post transfusion illness, cancers and other factors. No one before has suggested or attempted to determine if these patients differ biologically.

Dr. Peterson’s intuition that they would be different biologically proved to be correct. Columbia found dramatic differences in the CSF of classical versus atypical patients. Virtually all the immune factors tested were higher in the complex atypical vs the classical patients. The researchers are taking a deeper look at the cerebrospinal fluid in these two types of patients.

The findings also demonstrates how vital it is to tease out subsets. Without breaking patients up into early and longer duration subsets the findings of the CFI’s big immune study would have been negative.  Similarly, without excluding Peterson’s subset of  atypical patients, the cerebral spinal fluid study findings would have been insignificant. Given the size, expense and prominence of the CFI blood study, in particular, the negative results would have provided a significant impetus for the field to move away from the immune system.

Instead, there is now great interest in immune alterations in ME/CFS. The inability to ferret out biologically important subsets has undoubtedly smothered potentially important findings in ME/CFS in the past. In a short period of time the CFI investigators and Dr. Peterson have added two factors ME/CFS researchers need to consider in their studies: duration of illness and classical vs non-classical patients.

This is an example of “translational medicine” – going from the bench (lab) to the bedside (clinic) and vice-versa – at its best. It can only occur when researchers interact closely with practitioners they trust and vice-versa.

The Gut Work

gut chronic fatigue syndrome

Mady Hornig believes the gut may hold answers to ME/CFS. The preliminary gut results suggest she may be right.

Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity has  completed the testing of samples from 50 patients and 50 healthy controls started in the CFI study and extended in an NIH-funded study to analyze ME/CFS microbiome. They are completing analysis of the samples now.

They’re finding evidence of significant changes in the gut flora of ME/CFS patients vs healthy controls. For one, altered levels of butyrate producing bacteria have been found in the ME/CFS patients. Noting that similar differences have been found in autoimmune diseases, Dr. Hornig proposed that an autoimmune process may be fueling the symptoms in a subset of patients.

Another finding suggests substantial serotonin dysregulation may be present in ME/CFS. (Most of the serotonin in our body is found in our gut.) Dr. Hornig described serotonin as a major immune regulator. Thus far they’ve found that serotonin is more likely to be undetectable in shorter duration patients than longer duration patients, and those reduced serotonin levels are associated with increased immune activity including a very significant increase in IFN-Y – an important antiviral factor.

Tryptophan is metabolized to either serotonin or kynurenine.  If serotonin levels are low, the levels of kynurenine are likely high. Plentiful serotonin results in feelings of well-being, emotional resilience, and immune balance. High levels of kynurenine, on the other hand, have been associated with a host of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr. Hornig has called the kynurenine pathway her favorite pathway because it’s been implicated in so many diseases.

The low serotonin findings in ME/CFS were apparently significant enough for Columbia to begin developing new tests to more accurately assess the presence of kynurenine metabolites. It appears that they’ve been successful in doing that, and we can expect more fine-tuned analyses of the role that pathway plays in ME/CFS.

In discussion afterward the presentation, Dr. Hornig said she was struggling a bit how to relay ideas of low resilience to stress in ME/CFS – some of which low serotonin levels could play a role in – without ruffling feathers.  She’s certainly not advocating the SNRI’s or other antidepressants in ME/CFS. In fact, she noted that she was sure ME/CFS patients were amongst the “treatment resistant depression” patients she’d seen when working as a psychiatrist early in her career.

The fix for the serotonin problem – if it is validated in a subset of ME/CFS patients – will clearly come from another direction. A recent review article suggested using the gut flora to affect serotonin-based brain disorders and that is probably the track Dr. Hornig will take. She said she is especially keen to look at the effects of nutraceuticals, probiotics and fecal transplants in ME/CFS.

Dr. Hornig is clearly intellectually excited by her work, but one thing that happened during her presentation indicated her strong emotional connection to it as well.  The presentation of a small quilt to her from ME/CFS patients strongly affected her and left her having to momentarily gather herself emotionally.  It was a surprisingly moving moment.

Dr. Hornig sounded confident about the direction of their research and stated that they were veSimmaron Research | Give | Donate | Scientifically Redefining ME/CFSry much looking forward to what the next few years will bring.  She said she was cautiously optimistic that the IOM and P2P reports, the positive immune study, plus the signs that the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) may be interested in taking ME/CFS on, indicate that a turnaround for ME/CFS funding is in store.

Help Simmaron continue to fund this pivotal work, as we seek to deepen immune findings in ME/CFS and turn them into potential treatments.

A Father Responds: Riding Hard for ME/CFS Research

Everyone’s Nightmare

It was a nightmarish situation.  Struck down by ME/CFS at the age of eight after a series of staph/herpes infections and infectious mononucleosis, the Spearing’s formerly healthy and energetic daughter, Stephanie, was soon confined to her bed.

Then it got worse. Much worse.  As Stephanie’s illness progressed, severe sensory problems left her unable to tolerate bright light, sounds, smells and touch. Migratory nerve and abdominal pain left her in severe pain much of the time. Dysautonomia and muscle weakness left her unable to walk. Food sensitivities  and gut problems left her unable to tolerate many foods and her weight dropped precipitously.  The UK health authorities were – surprise, surprise –  no help at all. They didn’t even attempt to be polite in their denials.

Improvement

stephanie spearing

Stephanie has improved tremendously but is still far from being able to lead a normal life

It was a tragic story that could have easily lead to an even more tragic ending but Stephanie’s move out of the  damp UK into the colder but drier climate and more ME friendly health system in Canada helped  Rest and more rest, dietary changes, probiotics and immune supplements produced progress.

Seven years later Stephanie is still weak but she no longer experiences the severe sensory problems and pain she once did. She’s not in school but no longer needs her wheelchair and is able to go on walks. Stephanie’s reduced suffering is a great relief to her parents but they want their entire daughter back.

Riding for ME/CFS Research

They want real relief. They want mounds of research. They want their daughter well and they don’t want anyone else to go through what Stephanie and they went through. The awful nights. The walking on tiptoes in order not to cause their daughter – huddled in her bed upstairs – pain from too much noise.  The ugly comments from the medical authorities.

Everyone is affected by these severe illnesses. Some give up in the face of the opposition but Peter Spearing  has just gotten more determined.  In three days in his Ride For ME/CFS Research Peter is riding 100 kilometers in Tour de l’Île de Montréal cycling event  to raise funds for the Simmaron Research Foundation. He’s going to ride full out – as hard as he can.

Ride For ME/CFS research

The Institute’s collaborative efforts with top researchers and Dr. Peterson’s years of experience drew the Spearmans to the Simmaron Research Institute

When asked why they choose the Simmaron Research Institute Stephanie’s mother Suzy emphasized Dr. Peterson’s years of experience, and the close ties the Institute has forged with important research efforts across the globe.  One of the first articles they read about ME/CFS, she noted, involved Dr. Peterson’s efforts in the Incline Village outbreak over thirty years ago.

Created in 2012, the Simmaron Research Institute is dedicated to scientifically redefining how ME/CFS is studied and treated. It’s dedicated to giving people like Stephanie options. To breaking up the ignorance that is causing so many people to be cruelly treated. To producing an environment in which ME/CFS is given the resources that other chronic illnesses are.

The Institute is currently participating in and/or funding work on

  • The gut microbiome
  • Tick, mosquito borne and other pathogens
  • Determining subsets and defining ME/CFS
  • Epidemiology including the long term effects of ME/CFS
  • A genomic analysis of immune cell functioning
  • The cause of the natural killer cell dysfunction
  • The extent of severe T-cell abnormalities found
  • Autoimmunity, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cancer prevalence
  • Ampligen’s effectiveness in treating ME/CFS
  • Spearheading efforts to make immune tests a standard part of diagnostic protocols
  • Collaborating with Columbia University to train future doctors how to treat ME/CFS
Simmaron Research Foundation

The Simmaron Research Institute is dedicated to scientifically redefining ME/CFS

Peter, Suzanne and Stephanie request that you support Peter’s efforts to bolster ME/CFS research by donating to the Simmaron Research Institute here.  Everyone, young and old, deserves a shot at a normal, healthy life.  (Please reference Stephanie Spearing in the dedication box provided).

Simmaron Scientist Awarded NIH Grant Probing Cause of Immune Holes in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

August 31, 2014

NIH Grant to Study Genetics of Immune Response in ME/CFS

Simmaron Research Foundation’s Scientific Director, Isabel Barao PhD, has been awarded the IDeA Clinical and Translational Research Pilot Grant (CTR-IN) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine ways ME/CFS patients’ genetic heritage may contribute to immune dysfunction and their inability to fight off viruses. Dr. Peterson will select the patients, collect their blood and provide their clinical information. The laboratory work will be performed at University of Nevada School of Medicine (UNSOM), Department of Microbiology and Immunology, where Dr. Barao is academically affiliated.

DNA

This study will probe genetic holes in natural killer cells

The $75,000 grant is small, but it is an important sign of Simmaron’s ability to advance new investigators involved in immunological research on ME/CFS at the NIH. The CTR-IN grant is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The 1-year grant supports 20% of Dr. Barao’s pay and supplies for laboratory work.

Dr. Barao has also submitted an R21 grant proposal to the NIH in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Dr. Peterson and UNSOM.

ME/CFS is believed to be a multi-factorial disorder caused by a combination of one’s genetic makeup, an environmental trigger such as a pathogen, and other factors. It’s believed that 20-40% of the reason people came down with ME/CFS lies in their genes.

Take away that genetic component and maybe that infection that never went away passes on through like every other cold did. Maybe that bout of fatigue that stayed and got worse resolves with rest this time. It may take one factor to tip the system into the situation we call ME/CFS. That factor could lie in our genes.

First Line of Immune Defense Down

This grant will help determine if altered FcRs (e.g. CD16) on natural killer (NK) cells have made it more difficult for ME/CFS patients t0 fight off viruses.  NK cells are the cells our immune system uses to hold the invader at bay while cytotoxic T-cells and B-cells gear up to wipe out the invader.

We know that poorly functioning NK cells could be allowing pathogens to get entrenched more deeply into ME/CFS patients’ systems, perhaps even into immunologically privileged parts of our nervous system that the big guns of our immune system have trouble getting to.

Second Line of Immune Defense Down As Well?

pathogens

Could ME/CFS genetics be giving pathogens the upper hand in ME/CFS?

It turns out, though, that natural killer cells not only play a vital role in the first lines of our immune defense – they also play an important role in fighting off chronic infections. This study suggests NK cell problems in ME/CFS may also be allowing chronic viral infections to persist.

During an infection, B-cells start pumping out IgG antibodies that attach to and stop pathogens from infecting our cells. Once IgG antibodies have attached to a pathogen, NK cells are able to recognize, attack and kill cells infected with pathogens through FcRs, using a process called ‘antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity’ (ADCC).

Studies have shown that individuals with genetic alterations (polymorphisms) of the genes associated with that ADCC response have an increased risk of cancer and autoimmune disorders. Genetic impairment of the ADCC response could also make it more difficult to clear herpes viral infections, which are of such interest in ME/CFS.

A Talk With Isabel Barao Ph.D

Dr. Barao is Adjunct Assistant Professor at UNR’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Scientific Director of Simmaron Research.

How did you get involved in ME/CFS research?

In 2009, the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI) invited me to be their scientific consultant and to find out why NK cells are dysfunctional in CFS. I conducted immunological studies at the WPI until September of 2010.

What has your research into ME/CFS told you about this disease thus far?

Isabel Barao Ph.D

Isabel Barao Ph.D

I believe that variations in particular genes that affect the functioning of the immune system increase the risk of CFS.

You recently presented a paper at the 1st Annual Mountain West CTR-IN meeting suggesting that ME/CFS patients may have higher than normal levels of “hybrid” immune cells. Can you tell us what those immune cells are and what effects they might have?

The ‘hybrid’ lymphocytes are NKT-like cells that are increased in the blood of some of Dr. Peterson’s CFS patients and that may have unique properties in CFS patients.

We are characterizing these immune cells further.

You’re also engaged in a Simmaron Research Foundation study examining genetic changes in a range of immune cells in ME/CFS. Most ME/CFS research has focused on natural killer cells but you’re also really interested in other immune cells. Why?

Because NK cells communicate with B cells, T cells, macrophages, etc. and if the communication between them is defective, immune deregulations involving all these cells can occur and lead to disease. 

What comes next and what are the treatment implications if the study is positive?

Our expectations are that FcRs polymorphisms define CFS and its severity and predict those patients who may benefit from ADCC-based therapies.

Read more about Isabel’s work at Simmaron Research Foundation Study Targeting Roots of Immune System Breakdown in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)

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Simmaron Foundation’s Immunology Workshop: the Forefront of Diagnosing and Treating ME/CFS

Simmaron’s Immunology Workshop on ME/CFS, Part I

survey

Immunologists came to the Simmaron Foundation’s Immunology Workshop to decide if immune tests should be standard practice in ME/CFS diagnosis and treatment

Immunologists came to the Simmaron Foundation’s Immunology Workshop to decide if immune tests should be standard practice in ME/CFS diagnosis and treatment.

Simmaron Research Foundation is focused on redefining ME/CFS scientifically. They produced the Immunology Workshop at the 2014 IACFS/ME Conference in order to get a consensus from immunologists and practitioners on whether immune testing should help guide diagnosis and treatment in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). Immunologists were invited to give presentations and then queried regarding whether immune tests should be incorporated into diagnostic protocols for this disorder.  Dr. Unger, the head of the CDC’s CFS program, was invited to attend.

Overviews of  some of the presentations make up Pt I of the Immunology Workshop Overview.

(I used my notes from the Workshop to build the foundation for this blog and then expanded on many of the subjects presented; i.e. the blog reflects my interpretation of the presentations and what they mean; it may not in places reflect the presenters viewpoints.)

Troy Querec, Ph.D, CDC – Natural Killer Cell Testing 

The CDC ignored natural killer (NK) cell functioning in ME/CFS for many years, but they appear to be convinced now that it’s a key problem.

Natural killer cells are called ‘natural killers’ because they don’t need to be activated to kill cells that don’t have the right MHC markers on them. They are also the only immune cells that can recognize infected cells without antibodies and MHC markers being present.

medical tests

The NK cell function test that reveals how effective NK cells are at killing invaders is laborious, expensive and, according to an NSU presentation at the IACFS/ME conference, not suited to most labs.  (This isn’t the first immune test relevant to ME/CFS that has not been readily available. Most of the tests associated with the RNase L enzyme are still available only at one lab in country.)

Recognizing the need for your average doctor to have access to a less expensive test of NK cell functionality, the CDC is working on one. (They’re not the first. The Klimas/Fletcher group in Miami was reportedly working on one several years ago.)

They’re focusing on measuring how effective the receptors found on the surface of NK cells are at turning the cells on. Receptor deficiency could play a role in the poor NK cell functioning found in ME/CFS. To that end they’re developing CD 107 antibodies that attach to the receptors.

Because shipping has also been shown to reduce NK cell viability, they’re also proposing ways to optimize NK cell viability during the shipping process. This involves keeping cells in their natural habitat – the whole blood – and isolating PMBC’s first. They propose a pilot study to determine ways to optimize viability of NK cells during shipping.

Finding an easier and more effective way to measure NK cell functionality would go a long way to establishing NK cell dysfunction as a biomarker for ME/CFS.

Dr. Constance Knox – B-cells and Chronic  Fatigue Syndrome

“Lots of vacuums in this field” 

After noting how little we know about the role B-cells play in ME/CFS, Dr. Knox echoed Mady Hornig’s statements that there are “lots of vacuums in this field” and then went onto a short overview.

A cornerstone of our immune defense, B-cells directly ‘attack’ pathogens and trigger other parts of the immune system to respond.

B_cell_activation

B-cells could be a major contributor to ME/CFS but the role they play is largely a mystery

First, they are activated by antigens (proteins associated with pathogens) brought to them by macrophages and dendritic cells – two innate immune cells. B-cells then produce hordes of pathogen specific antibodies that search for the pathogen outside the cell and attach to it in order to prevent it from attacking our cells. They also take that antigen and present it to killer T-cell’s which then mount a pathogen specific defense which gets at pathogens located inside the cell.

Two recent findings have overturned medical dogma concerning B-cells.

Naturally Occurring Antibodies: At one time it was thought B-cells only produced antibodies that were directed at specific invaders, but it’s now clear that naturally occurring antibodies – which are not directed at specific pathogens – are present as well. These antibodies are derived from unusual sugar residues synthesized in the gut – an interesting finding given the emphasis both Dr. Hornig and Dr. Lipkin place on the gut in ME/CFS.

Regulatory B-Cells – Cells regulating the powerful T-cell response (T-regulatory cells) received most of the attention until regulatory B-cells were discovered. Regulatory B-cells make up only 0.5% of total B-cells but are powerful regulators of immune activation and inflammation. They induce two important anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-10, TGF-beta), which dampen the inflammation produced by the innate immune system.

b-cell signaling

Problems with B-cell signaling would pose problems for other parts of the immune system.

IL-10 restores Th1/Th2 balance (a problem in ME/CFS) and inhibits inflammatory cascades while TGF-B wipes out some types of T-cells, dampens the activity of cytotoxic T-cells, and takes other actions to reduce inflammation. These cells often get upregulated in states of chronic inflammation and elevated levels of both have been found in ME/CFS.  (They suggest the immune systems of ME/CFS patients are attempting to reign in inflammation.)

Research  is need to determine if either cell plays a role in ME/CFS, but several ongoing studies may give us clues regarding the role B-cells play. Rituxian (Rituximab) – an monoclonal antibody directed against mature or activated B-cells – reduces B-cell numbers. (A successful result in Rituximab trial could indicate B-cells in ME/CFS are triggering an autoimmune response or could implicate EBV infection.)

A 2011 study documenting increased rates of lymphoma in ME/CFS patients suggests more problems with B-cell regulation may  be present in a subset of  patients.

David Baewer, M.D., Ph.D – Serology and HHV-6 Infections

Most humans carry latent herpesviruses in their cells that do little harm. Once activated, though, in people with poorly functioning immune systems such as transplant patients, these seemingly innocuous viruses can cause enormous damage. With their immune systems intentionally knee-capped in order to avoid an immune attack on their transplanted organ, they are ripe for herpesvirus activation. Several antivirals under development that could assist some people with ME/CFS come from research devoted to preventing herpesvirus activation in transplant patients.

herpesvirus

Some researchers believe herpesvirus activation is common in ME/CFS -but that the typical virus tests are not up to the job.

Dr. Baewer proposed that the same  general processes causing herpesvirus reactivation in transplant victims is occurring in ME/CFS. Standard testing for herpesviruses, however, is unable to distinguish the kind of active herpesvirus infections he believes are present in ME/CFS.

He noted that primary active infections – which occur when the body is first introduced to a pathogen – are often diagnosed via a high IgM response.

The kind of herpesvirus infection suspected in ME/CFS, however, (and the kind that mostly occurs in adults) involves reactivation from a latent infection. Because these kinds of infections rarely generate a robust IgM response, Dr. Baewer asserted IgM readings in adults have little clinical value.

Viral DNA with PCR isn’t effective either because it only tells us if the virus is present and it is present in 95-100% of population.

Viral mRNA using reverse transcriptase PCR, on the other hand, shows whether the virus replicating or not.  This type of testing tells which genes in herpesvirus genome are present in the blood – and identifying which genes show up is the key to determining whether the virus is actively replicating or not.

Herpesviruses need to be able to attack and establish themselves in B-cells, ward off the immune system’s efforts to find them and then replicate when the time is right. They are complex viruses with big genomes that have genes associated with maintaining latency, with altering the immune response and with building new viruses. Viral mRNA using reverse transcriptase PCR can identify which stage the virus is  in.

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Tests can reveal which stage of its lifecycle EBV is in. Unfortunately, those tests are rarely done in ME/CFS patients

If there is evidence of genes associated with latency, but nothing is present, the virus is simply maintaining latent state. If genes produced later in its life cycle are found, the virus is active but not replicating. If genes devoted to building the outer membrane of the herpesvirus are present – you have an active, replicating virus on your hands.

(The fact that Epstein-Barr virus can hijack the nuclear machinery in B-cells and go through its early, medium and late cycles without ever replicating suggests it can cause much mischief simply sitting in B-cells.  We know that in order to maintain latency, EBV affects how B-cells, a critical part of the immune machinery, function.  We know EBV increases the lifespan of B-cells and that it prompts them to replicate. Some researchers believe EBV’s effects on B-cells underlie all autoimmune processes in the body. )

The smoldering herpesvirus infection hypothesis in ME/CFS produced by Dr. Lerner and researchers at Ohio State University proposes EBV is perturbing immune cells and causing immune cell dysfunction without causing cell death, while producing only very low levels of viral transcription.

Because herpesvirus serology tests will not pick up this type of infection, however, it will never be picked up by standard serology tests.

(to be continued…)___________________

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The Immunology Workshop – Redefining how ME/CFS is diagnosed and treated

Simmaron’s Immunology Workshop Participants

  • Daniel Peterson, M.D. Sierra Internal Medicine, Incline Village, NV
  • Nancy Klimas, M.D. Ph.D Nova South Eastern University, Miami, FL
  • Paula Waziry, Ph.D Nova South Eastern University, Miami, FL
  • Sonya Marshall, Ph.D Griffith University Gold Coast Australia
  • Sharni Hardcastle, Ph.D Griffith University Gold Coast Australia
  • Konstance Knox, Ph.D., Founder, CEO, Coppe Healthcare Solutions
  • David Baewer, M.D. Ph.DMedical Director, Coppe Healthcare Solutions
  • Isabel Barao, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Reno, Simmaron Research Scientific Director
  • Gunnar Gottschalk, B.S., Simmaron Research, Incline Village, NV
  • Troy Querec, Ph.D., Associate Service Fellow, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
  • Dennis Mangan, Ph.D., Former Chair, Trans-NIH ME/CFS Research Working Group, Office of Research on Women’s Health, U.S. National Institutes of Health
  • Mary Ann Fletcher, Ph.D., University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Professor of Medicine, Microbiology/Immunology and Psychology
  • Elizabeth Unger, M.D. Ph.D., Chief, Chronic Viral Disease Branch, Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Simmaron Research Foundation Study Targeting Roots of Immune System Breakdown in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)

June 13, 2014

Simmaron Research’s  new immune study builds on exciting research that is changing how we think about ME/CFS.

Twenty years ago  the internationally known virus hunter, Dr. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University, didn’t find Borna Virus in people with ME/CFS, but he never forgot the immune dysfunction he found.  Twenty years later he found more immune dysfunction in another study.

Isabel Barao, PhD, Simmaron Research Scientific Director

Isabel Barao, PhD, the Simmaron Research Foundations Scientific Director believes a genetic predisposition to immune problems could underlie ME/CFS

He doesn’t know why it’s there but he does believe that all ME/CFS cases – no matter what pathogen or other factor has triggered them –  devolve to a ‘common pathway’. The fact that pathogens of all types – from Epstein-Barr Virus, to SARS, to Giardia – can trigger ME/CFS suggests a core immune deficiency lies at the heart of the illness.

Every genetic study suggests an inherited susceptibility to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is present. Dr. Mady Hornig of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University believes that a genetic predisposition in combination with an environmental trigger (such as an infection) occurring at just the right (wrong) time is probably key to coming down with ME/CFS.

For thirty or forty years you might be able to easily slough off this bug or that pathogen, but at some point for some reason the stars aligned; you were depleted in just the right way, the pathogen hit and with your immune system genetically predisposed to crack under the pressure – it did – and your entire system faltered.

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Simmaron is looking for the genetic roots of an immune system breakdown

Simmaron Research’s next pilot study is looking for that immune crack in the dike – the genetic underpinnings of the system collapse that occurred. Led by Simmaron’s Scientific Director, Isabel Barao, PhD, in collaboration with researchers at the National Cancer Institute and University of Nevada Reno, it will determine if your NK and B-cells and macrophages are genetically predisposed to respond poorly to a virus, toxin, or cancer cell.

Dr. Barao is studying whether people with ME/CFS have polymorphisms – unusual gene formations – that make their key immune cells less likely to respond well to viruses and other threats. That immune ‘hole’ many people have talked about with regards to ME/CFS could start here. We all know about the rampant NK cell problems in ME/CFS, but this study could help explain the B-cell problems recently uncovered in a German research study – and perhaps even shed light on why Rituximab may be working in some patients.

It’s the initial part of a projected three-part study that could end with drugs for ME/CFS. Once genetic alterations have been found, they’ll be correlated with immune findings. If that holds up, it’ll  be time to look for drugs to fix the problem, two of which are currently in clinical trials.

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Support the Simmaron Research Foundation as it redefines how ME/CFS is understood and treated

Think about it. The high heritability rates in ME/CFS indicate genetic problems exist somewhere. Where better to look than the immune system?

This study is a no-brainer to me. It’s relatively cheap – it has a quick six-month turnaround – and the data it produces will lay the foundation for an NIH grant on topics they’ve  shown they’re willing to fund.

Help us redefine ME/CFS.  Support breakthrough science on immune deficiencies at Simmaron.

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

A Talk with Dennis Mangan, New Member of Simmaron’s Scientific Advisory Board

 Communication was central to all of our activities

My first memory of Dennis Mangan came at the end of a long day at a Federal Advisory Meeting for ME/CFS (CFSAC).  As the meeting broke up, Dennis strode over, pulled up a chair and motioned for everyone to gather around.  He asked what we thought needed to happen.  For the next hour  or so he sat and quietly, listening to stories of distress, frustration and hope.  Never had anyone from the National Institutes of Health attempted to get so close to the patient community. Changes, I thought, were surely in the wind.

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Dennis Mangan created the State of the Knowledge Conference, created a Listserv, re-vitalized the CFS Working Group, changed the name and communicated, communicated, communicated during his time working on ME/CFS at the NIH

After that he started to act. He redid the NIH website, and they became the first federal agency to call chronic fatigue syndrome ‘ME/CFS’.  He started a Listserv to be in better communication; he enlarged and revitalized  the NIH Working Group  (they had their first meeting in a year). Soon we had State of the Knowledge Workshop – put together in collaboration with patients.   Throughout, Dennis was open and in communication, and the ME/CFS community embraced him.  It was like day and night at the NIH.

Dennis Mangan ended his career at the NIH as the head of the CFS Working Group at the NIH. You could argue that everything in his career lead him there, and that his experiences there have continue to inform his current activities.

With a Ph.D. in biology (dissertation – “Mannose sensitive interaction of Escherichia coli with human peripheral leukocytes in vitro“), Dennis did hard-core immune research for 15 years, before moving to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Resarch (NIDCR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As director of the  Infectious Disease Program NIDCR Dennis engaged in numerous activities including identifying key research areas, designing major trans-NIH efforts on mucosal immunity, biofilms and the microbiome, leading the Human Microbiome Project, liasing with professional groups, developing funding opportunities, etc. A member of  Information Technology Advisory Committee, Dennis produced the first Listserv to provide infectious disease researchers with up to date  funding opportunities.

At the Office on Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) in 2009 Dennis developed strategic plans, identified opportunities for growth, etc., and chaired the NIH Working group on ME/CFS.   His commitment to open and effective communication was put to the test with a frustrated and often suspicious ME/CFS community that ended up embracing him.

Family issues prompted Dennis’s retirement, but he promised to stay engaged with the ME/CFS community, and he has. Now, as he joins the Scientific Advisory Board of the Simmaron Research Foundation, I asked him about the federal government and his work with Simmaron and the ME/CFS community.

Interview

“I never left” 

When you retired in late 2011 you promised to stay engaged with the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome community and you have. Since then  you’ve chaired a session at the FDA Workshop for ME/CFS, become an Advisory Board Member for the Stanford Chronic Fatigue Research Group, a Board Member for the IACFS/ME, and now the Simmaron Research Foundation.  That’s a lot of stuff. Am I missing anything?

That pretty much covers it.  In addition, since 2011, I took a variety of communication classes so that I might help scientists talk about their work with the public they serve and the people who support their research.  Public interactions, of course, have direct application to increasing the awareness of CFS and related disorders.

I give workshops in which the researchers learn to be more conversational, boil down complex data, explain their research briefly (elevator pitches), and talk about research in the form of stories instead of cold facts.  Improved communication will, I hope, help science become more transparent to everyone, including news media, legislators, funding agencies, administrators, donors, students, patients, family and friends.

I’m not sure helping out the sometimes surly ME/CFS community would fit into many people’s retirement plans.   You could surely have found easier subjects to be engaged with, yet you’ve committed a good chunk of energy to supporting this community.  Why? What has made you come back?

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Dennis Mangan’s forte has been bridging the gap between patient and researcher and bringing people together to work on disease.

I never left.  Helping connect the research scientists with the public has been my career for 30+ years.  There is much excitement and promise in what is happening in science right now (e.g., genomics, high throughput technologies, regenerative medicine, the microbiome, systems biology) and I see opportunities for that science to have direct impact on our understanding and treatment of CFS.  When I retired from civil service as an advisor to the NIH, I continued to talk with patients as well as researchers.  By learning more about how to communicate science to the public, I found a way to contribute to the progress in the CFS field.

You’re a past researcher, you’ve checked out the research on ME/CFS as well as disorders allied with it. Is there anything that really pops out for you? That says to you – this is what ME/CFS is all about?

Like many others, I am impressed with the findings related to disorders of the neuro-immune system and infectious diseases studies.  They seem to point to an abnormal response of the body to microbes (viruses or bacteria) that might ultimately serve as both biomarkers of disease and targets for treatment.   The similarity of some CFS features with other diseases suggests there might be common pathways.

My NIH colleagues and I strived for transparency in order to increase awareness for CFS at all levels of NIH leadership

You were the NIH representative and Chair of the ME/CFS working group at the NIH from 2010 to 2011 – a short time! – but you made a big impact. You enlarged the NIH Working Group on ME/CFS, created a Listserv, changed the name to ME/CFS, remade the NIH website, and communicated, communicated, communicated.  It seemed to me that you really had a vision that you wanted to accomplish and a big part of that involved communication. Can you speak about that?

NIH State of Knowledge cover pic

The State of the Knowledge Workshop on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the first ME/CFS focused Workshop sponsored by the DHHS in almost 10 years.

Communication was central to all of our activities.  My NIH colleagues and I strived for transparency in order to increase awareness for CFS at all levels of NIH leadership, among researchers and within the patient/advocate communities.  We all wanted to advance the science of CFS and to translate basic laboratory research into clinical practice.

As experienced program directors at NIH, we knew that exchange of ideas and scientific debate moves research fields forward.  To that end, in cooperation with leadership at the Office of Research on Women’s Health and the Office of the Director, the Working Group designed a unique State of the Knowledge workshop on CFS in April 2011.

The intent was to bring together basic and clinical researchers from many disciplines to share their knowledge and help point to where future research was headed.  It truly was a workshop.  The meeting generated great discussions and some collaboration.  It also emphasized the need for access to common data that spawned the goal of a shared database of clinical information.

The database, which we referred to as the CASA (i.e., home) project, is currently under construction.  Simmaron Research, with its wealth of clinical data, is a participating contributor.

Simmaron’s openness to working with other researchers makes them a great partner in studying and treating CFS.

Why did you chose the Simmaron Research Foundation to work with?

The CFS groups that I work with have common features.  They all have a passion to solve the mysteries of CFS using the best scientific principles.  They all value collaborative and cross-disciplinary research.  Simmaron incorporates these values in all their work.   The group has limited resources but leverages what they have with other laboratories.  In particular some of their biospecimens reach back almost 30 years and when shared with others can have spectacular impact on medical discovery.

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Mangan cited Simmaron’s professionalism and willingness to creatively collaborate with other groups as two reasons for joining their board.

Although a small organization, Simmaron offers extensive clinical expertise and biospecimens for medical research.  Moreover, their clinics are designed to capture important information about CFS patients that could lead to better diagnosis and treatment.  I greatly admire their creative administrative structure, and the connection with a non-profit umbrella organization that maximizes resources and reduces operating expenses.

Simmaron’s openness to working with other researchers makes them a great partner in studying and treating CFS.  Simmaron is also committed to developing the next generation of CFS clinical researchers and has established an advanced training fellowship program for physicians.  Moreover, Simmaron has helped increase public awareness for CFS in many public sectors.

 

To my knowledge, never before has CFS taken such a front stage position within the Department.

Dr. Wanda Jones told me earlier this year that significant shifts in the federal governments attitude towards chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) have occurred, but that we, for the most part, don’t see them, in part because of the ongoing budget situation. Is that your experience? Did you see shifts in how ME/CFS was viewed when you were there?

Wanda Jones was a terrific resource and a friend to me.  She worked tirelessly to connect the various DHHS agencies’ efforts to address the needs CFS patients and researchers.  She was always down to earth, direct and honest with me, and did not pander to anyone.  I used her passion as a building block for my efforts at the NIH.  We all wanted more funding for CFS research and to encourage more scientists from multiple disciplines to enter the field.

My guess is that the changes I saw happening at the NIH are also happening at the DHHS now.  Deputy Secretary Howard Koh and Nancy Lee, Director of the Office of Women’s Health, are keeping CFS on the “radar screen” at the DHHS.  Sometimes even within the government we don’t know what is happening at all the agencies.  Koh is working to increase transparency within the DHHS  (e.g., when I was there he hosted monthly teleconference calls among the heads of key agencies involved in CFS.)   To my knowledge, never before has CFS taken such a front stage position within the Department.

People with ME/CFS look at NIH funding and they, honestly, want to scream. They feel abandoned and angry at the little support the federal government gives to this disorder. It’s not as if we’re alone, though.  Fibromyalgia, IBS, interstitial cystitus and other ‘allied disorders’ also get funding that is out of sync with their prevalence and the degree of suffering they cause.  These are all complex disorders that primarily affect woman and cause a lot suffering but don’t usually cause death.  Why do you think these types of disorders receive low amounts of funding relative  to other chronic illnesses?

I know…I received a few of those screams directly…but they did not land on deaf ears!  We might be one experiment or observation away from a breakthrough in CFS and every experiment is important.  The key to scientific credibility is to have validated biomarkers and targets for treatment.

This is why the XMRV story went viral: we finally had a target.  As a result, funding for CFS spiked in 2009 and several grants were awarded to study aspects of XMRV.  If we could reduce the scientific complexity of CFS (e.g., by having good biomarkers and targets for treatment), I suspect that more researchers would want to invest a career in studying it.  Such knowledge breeds an intellectual feeding-frenzy for research, new researchers and more funded grants.

 The NIH never moves as fast as I would like.

microbiome project

Dennis Mangan played a key role in launching the Human Microbiome Project to study the microbial populations present in humans. If Dr. Ian Lipkin is correct, the the gut microbiome may play a crucial role in ME/CFS.

If there’s one thing you’d like people with ME/CFS to know about federal government and its approach to chronic illness what would it be?

Patience and persistence is necessary.  The NIH never moves as fast as I would like.  For example, in the late 1990s, I recommended NIH support more projects on high-throughput sequencing of microbes in order to advance our understanding of both pathogens and the microbes that normally colonize our healthy bodies.  NIH leadership, many of my colleagues and some researchers were reluctant to support such projects, labeling them as fishing expeditions in which massive amounts of data would overwhelm existing computer technology, and waste funds and resources.

It took me six years working with likeminded colleagues at the NIH and other agencies to finally see the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) get funded ($173+ million to date).   Today, the HMP project is generating new technologies (e.g., faster computing software and hardware), new hypotheses of diseases and conditions (e.g., a better understanding of how gut microbes are involved in allergies and obesity), and a new generation of infectious disease researchers (e.g., Ian Lipkin.)

What could the chronic fatigue syndrome patient community be doing better to get its needs satisfied?

I have found the patient communities to be thoroughly engaged and eager to learn more about the pathophysiology of CFS.  Past history makes it hard for some patients and advocates to have hope for government support for their illness.   “Hardliner” skeptics are eager to create conspiracy theories for everything.

However, many patients and I understand the value of scientific principles and debate.  We saw science work with XMRV.  Yet, while the debate was ongoing, theories of the government hiding data abounded as scientists worked on replicating experiments and getting the truth out about XMRV.

What patients might not realize is that researchers also need hope and encouragement to move forward.  I encourage all of us to offer researchers a few kind words of support and to inspire them to keep working on the illness.

Besides more funding, what could the federal government be doing better to satisfy the needs of the ME/CFS community?

Resources for scientific discovery come in various forms.  My colleagues on the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Research Working Group understand this very well.  Although funding is always at the top of our list, we recognize other ways to support CFS research.  This includes support for research conferences; increasing awareness of the illness in the government, the medical communities and general public; support for training and career development; and public-private ventures to leverage limited financial resources.

The reasons for the Institute of Medicine and NIH evaluation of case definitions still puzzle me

Diagnosis

Dennis Mangan hopes the IOM projects are laying the ground for larger future initiatives

How important would having a federally recognized clinical or research definition be? Would that open doors that are now closed?

I think clinical and research definitions are extremely important for the future of the study and recognition of CFS.  Having a diagnosis take months, and needing to exclude so many other diseases and conditions, stifles understanding of the etiology and pathogenesis of CFS.  The current definitions could greatly be aided by a biomarker, and, with more research, these are gaining validation.

The reasons for the Institute of Medicine and NIH evaluation of case definitions still puzzle me.  However, I do know that the government as a basis for larger initiatives sometimes uses such evaluation reports.  I remain hopeful that the DHHS has such initiatives awaiting the outcome of these reports.

Gunnar Gottschalk Talks About CDC Collaboration

August 20, 2013

Watch as Simmaron Research Coordinator Gunnar Gottschalk describes our collaboration in the CDC clinical assessment study. Thank you Deborah Waroff and Llewellyn King at ME/CFS Alert for continuing to follow our research progress.