Research Director

Suzanne D. Vernon, PhD is the research director of BHC and is one of the nation’s leading researchers in ME/CFS. She completed an MS degree in microbiology from Colorado State University and a PhD degree in virology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Dr. Vernon has authored and co-authored 150 scientific papers and dedicated the past 20 years of her professional research career on identifying biomarkers and causes of ME/CFS.

Dr. Vernon completed post-doctoral research at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC). She spent 17 years studying human papillomavirus, opportunistic infections, and complications in people with human immunodeficiency virus and implementing state of the art techniques to discover novel pathogens in population-based samples. Early in her career she observed that HIV infected women had higher rates of cervical cancer and published one of the first papers to show that one of the HIV proteins could activate human papillomavirus to turn on its cancer-causing genes. Dr. Vernon co-authored a landmark paper that determined that severity of acute infection – rather than the type of pathogen – was the strongest predictor for developing chronic sequelae and disability. She co-authored a paper in Science on a technique called VirScan that tests for antibodies to over 200 viruses in a drop of blood.

 

Education and Training

Institution and Location Degree Completion  Field of Study
Colorado State University, Fort Collins BS 05/1983 Animal Science
Colorado State University, Fort Collins MS 05/1985 Microbiology
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin PhD 12/1989 Virology
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia Post-Doc 05/1992 Molecular Epidemiology

 

Personal Statement

I have dedicated the past 20 years of my professional research career on identifying biomarkers and possible causes of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). I have co-authored 140 peer- reviewed scientific papers. I spent 17 years at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studying human papillomavirus, opportunistic infections in HIV-infected women and chronic fatigue syndrome. My CDC tenure was highlighted by a number of “firsts” including the demonstration of molecular interaction between HPV and HIV and conceiving and organizing an international BIG DATA computational challenge. At CDC I assembled an eclectic team of molecular biologists, engineers, physicists, and computational biologists to merge data collected in laboratory, clinical and epidemiology studies with the goal of identifying biomarkers to objectively define a complex, medically unexplained disease known as ME/CFS. I transitioned into the nonprofit sector to engage patients more readily as partners in the research process. To do so I “built” the Research Institute Without Walls (RIWW), the first nonprofit patient-centered research initiative focused on identifying diagnostic biomarkers and disease-modifying treatment for ME/CFS. The RIWW included a patient registry and biobank and attracted some of the brightest investigators from the best institutions into ME/CFS research. Now as Research Director at the Bateman Horne Center, I bring my experience, connections, and collaborations to grow a research program focused on developing objective diagnostic measures and evidence-based treatments for ME/CFS.

 

Positions and Honors

1983-1985 Graduate Research Assistant, Division of Vector Borne Diseases, Fort Collins, CO
1985-1989 Graduate Research Assistant, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI
1987 Awarded Fulbright Student and Scholar program to study animal viruses in Bogota, Columbia
1988-1989 Field research, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, Heredia Costa Rica
1989 Awarded a 2-year National Science Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship, CDC, Atlanta, GA
1990-1992 National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, CDC Atlanta, GA
1992-1996 Research Microbiologist, CDC/DVRD, Atlanta, GA
1997-2007 Team Leader, Molecular Epidemiology Program, Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases (DVRD), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA
2007-2015 Scientific Director, Solve ME/CFS Initiative, Los Angeles, California
2007 Nominated for the Society for Women’s Health Research Medtronic Prize
2009 Awarded “Excellence in Research” by the International Association of CFS/ME
2009 Nominated for the National Institutes of Health 2010 Council of Public Representatives
2012 Special Recognition Award, signed by Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health to recognize exemplary Team Performance exhibited by the XMRV Working Group for evaluating XMRV, a potential threat to the blood supply.
2013 Integration Panel for Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program for Gulf War Illness
2013-2014 Institute of Medicine, committee member to define Chronic Multi-symptom Illness
2015-2017 Chief Scientific Officer, The BioCollective, LLC, Centennial, CO
2017-PR Research Director, Bateman Horne Center of Excellence, Salt Lake City, Utah

 

Contributions to Science

  • Developed a competitive grant program and recruited more than 70 scientists (the majority being new to this research domain) to respond to two funding opportunities. From 2009 to 2013 awarded ten $100,000 research grants. Five of the awardees have received grants totaling more than $12 million from federal agencies to continue their research. I became a collaborator with several of these awardees and was included as a co-author on publications.
  • Established the “Research Institute Without Walls”, a framework for senior scientists to use best research practices, develop and share standard operating procedures, share information and data, collaborate and learn from one another and provide the means for the organization to archive results generated from funding
  • Created a registry and innovative “on-demand” biobank to engage the patient community in research. Shortly thereafter secured a 1-year, $100,000 partnership with one of the largest pharmaceutical companies to validate a potential diagnostic marker. This $100,000 investment was leveraged in more than $5 million of additional research on remaining, stored biological samples.
  • Conceived of and successfully implemented a computational challenge to integrated disparate phenotype, physiological and genomic data from a 2-day in-hospital study. Selected 25 international scientists and clinicians to voluntarily participate on one of five teams over the six-month challenge period. Within six months, 15 peer-reviewed papers were published in a dedicated issue of Pharmacogenomics (below is the article I wrote introducing the challenge and the 15 papers). The CDC Director issued a national press release lauding this innovative approach and
  • Shortly after the completion of the sequence of the human genome in 2001 my laboratory team was the first to integrate population-based epidemiological studies with cutting-edge genomic technologies to identify novel pathogens and objective disease

 
For more details on Vernon’s additional contributions to science, publications, and research support click here.