Bateman Horne Center Leadership are Co-Investigators on this Cutting-Edge Immunogenomic Study to Quantify ME/CFS
Moving Toward a Genomic CBC for ME/CFS
By Suzanne D Vernon, PhD
There are two major barriers to identifying ME/CFS biomarkers: 1) variation in how patients are effected, in terms of symptoms and disease progression and 2) the lack of quantitative tools to specifically classify patients and examine the molecular immune underpinnings of the disease. Doctors use tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate health and detect diseases by counting the blood cell types – too many or too few can indicate disease. In the case of ME/CFS the CBC is used to rule out other “medically explained” diseases rather than to detect it because in ME/CFS blood cell number doesn’t drastically change. What does change in ME/CFS is the function of blood cells important for the immune response; genomic tools applied to individual immune cells can detect what is causing the altered function. This is what we call the “Genomic CBC.”
A few years ago I was introduced to Professor Derya Unutmaz, M.D., renowned immunologist at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. His research focuses on defining the optimal immune response and what happens during infection and chronic disease – a very good fit for ME/CFS! Unutmaz was intrigued by what I told him about ME/CFS and wanted to apply cutting-edge immunogenomics to blood samples from patients, so we worked together to generate some preliminary results on a small set of ME/CFS patients. This data was intriguing enough that Unutmaz applied to the NIH for funding to expand the numbers of patient samples and types of quantitative analyses on the blood.
His grant application was successful! The National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases (NIAID) of NIH recently funded Dr. Unutmaz’s grant application. Dr. Unutmaz will receive five years of funding – totaling $3,281,515 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — to find better ways to diagnose and treat ME/CFS. Dr. Lucinda Bateman and I are Co-Investigators on this project and the Bateman Horne Center Research Ready army of patients and controls will provide the most important part – the required blood samples and correlating clinical information for the participating samples.
We know that biomarkers will transform what we know about ME/CFS and how it can be treated. Dr. Unutmaz hypothesizes that immune disturbances, particularly to the effector functions of T cell, natural killer and myeloid cell subsets, contribute to ME/CFS. He will study these in order to develop more precise treatment, using a cutting-edge immunogenomics approach based on integrated, high-resolution functional and expression profiling of immune cell subsets within the blood from the BHC Research Ready army.
Dr. Unutmaz says, “Our goal is to develop a detailed functional and genetic immunological framework that can be used to decode the mechanisms of ME/CFS and to develop robust, quantitative immune-biomarker sets for predicting disease susceptibility, stratifying patients and guiding treatment strategies.”
ME/CFS will not be able to evade the “genomic CBC”. I believe we are well on our way to biomarkers to help guide more precise and personalized treatment for this disease!
For too long, research in ME/CFS has been lean and under-funded for several reasons, including the shortage of accurately diagnosed patients available for research studies. The Bateman Horne Center – a clinic specializing in ME/CFS/FM and with a large number of patients who have been carefully and accurately diagnosed, and continue to be treated effectively – will partner with Dr. Unutmaz so that our Research Ready Army can participate in this exciting research.
The Bateman Horne Center is committed to bringing ME/CFS and FM into the mainstream of clinical and medical science. Identifying biomarkers is a critical first step. BHC is a unique example of an independent non-profit integrative health center where medical care informs research, and research informs medical care; we are uniquely positioned to create collaborations between amazing, well-qualified patients and stellar research partners – an important component to progress.
We’ve got a big job to do and we need more patients and researchers involved in research to make objective diagnosis and treatment a reality for all impacted by ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia. Until that day, all “wild sock wearing” feet on deck!
Together we can!
Everything we accomplish is dependent on the support from others. We have two immediate goals – to train one new clinician researcher and to move to a larger building. Both of these goals, when achieved, dramatically increase our ability to see more patients and implement higher quality research such as Dr. Unutmaz’s study.
We also dream of hiring a new physician right out of residency, building them up into a life-long career of compassionate, comprehensive ME/CFS and FM care.
YOU can help us achieve these goals. DONATE TODAY