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Dr. Derya Unutmaz Explains Collaborative Research Center “CRC” with BHC

Derya Unatmaz of Jackson Laboratories explains the partnership between Bateman Horne Center,  Jackson Laboratory, and many other collaborators as part of our exciting new research.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a debilitating illness that afflicts up to two million individuals in the US and lacks both widely accepted therapies for its management as well as meaningful understanding of its biological underpinnings. Mounting evidence in ME/CFS patients suggests a significant role for immunological abnormalities that are thought to contribute to disease progression. More recently, the microbiome also emerged as an important potential contributor to immune perturbations. The overarching goal of our CRC is that immune cells in ME/CFS patients are programmed to respond aberrantly to environmental stimuli, or that the microbes they harbor in their gut perturb healthy immune response or metabolic activity.

To achieve our goals for advancing the mechanistic understanding of ME/CFS and identifying new strategies for patient diagnosis, prognosis, and stratification, we assembled a team of researchers and clinicians and formed an integrative center structure with highly synergistic projects. This center structure has a Clinical Core, which will be located and managed by the Bateman Horne Center (BHC), one of the premier ME/CFS clinics in the country. The Clinical Core will then recruit and follow a cohort of early-onset ME/CFS patients for the duration of the project. Blood and fecal samples obtained at the Clinical Core will be sent to Jackson Laboratory for processing and analysis.

At Jackson Laboratory we will extract, interpret, and integrate meaningful data from a highly detailed profiling of the immune system, metabolomics of the blood, and high-resolution gut microbiome profiling. These rich datasets will first be analyzed statistically to identify associations, then computationally to create a map of interactions among these biological and clinical/phenotypic components. With these analyses, we aim to create the first integrated clinical ontology to aid ME/CFS patient stratification. An important aspect of this data generation and correlative analysis is to generate novel hypotheses that could provide clues to the disease mechanisms. Therefore, we have built in approaches in the Clinical Project to assess mechanistic links between immune response and metabolism, which will be further examined in detail to determine the impact of isolated bacteria strains from ME/CFS patient microbiota on inflammation.

Our multi-disciplinary investigative team combines expertise in immunobiology (Unutmaz), clinical management of (and clinical research in) ME/CFS patients (Bateman Horne Center), microbiome biology (Oh), clinical bioinformatics and biostatistics (Robinson) and Motsinger-Reif), and mass spectrometry (Yao). They are complemented by a group of collaborators and contributors with domain expertise in high-throughput genomic profiling (Robson), microbial genomics (Adams) and Mass Spectrometry core at Jackson Laboratory managed by Dr. Ahlf Wheatcraft.

We have also engaged a range of community stakeholders, including ME/CFS patients, physicians, educators, and community activists, including #MEaction advocate Jen Brea, to participate in our Community Impact Steering Committee. Linda Avey, who is the CEO of the tracking platform Precise.ly, will help in patient clinical data tracking using online apps. Together, they will provide advice and guidance on study design, patient recruitment, and, importantly, interpretation of research results from a patient-oriented perspective, and will ensure that the JAX ME/CFS CRC remains connected to the needs of patients and physicians.

If you would like to be screened as a willing research participant for any BHC research studies, please visit our eligibility screening survey found here.