Moving Toward a Genomic CBC for ME/CFS
There are two major barriers to identifying ME/CFS biomarkers: 1) variations 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”.
“Our goal is to develop a detailed functional and genetic immunological framework that can be used to decode the mechanisms of ME/CFS and develop immune-biomarker sets for predicting disease susceptibility, stratifying patients and guiding treatment strategies.” Dr. Unutmaz
A few years ago Suzanne D. Vernon, PhD 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. Dr. Vernon knew this was a very good fit for ME/CFS! Intrigued by what Vernon told him about ME/CFS, Unutmaz wanted to apply cutting-edge immunogenomics to blood samples from patients, so they 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.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases (NIAID) of NIH recently funded Dr. Unutmaz’s grant application. He 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 Suzanne D. Vernon, PhD are Co-Investigators on this project and the Bateman Horne Center will provide 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. I believe we are well on our way to biomarkers to help guide more precise and personalized treatment for this disease!” says Vernon. Dr. Unutmaz hypothesizes that immune disturbances, particularly to the effector functions of T cell, natural killer and myeloid cell subsets, contribute to ME/CFS.
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 a Research Ready Army of well qualified patients 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. BHC is uniquely positioned to create collaborations between amazing, well-qualified patients and stellar research partners – an important component to progress.