RAMSAY 2017: MEET RESEARCH TEAM 2April 25, 2018
The Ramsay Award program is a foundation of the Solve ME/CFS Initiative’s (SMCI) commitment to explore worthy research avenues. This program aims to move the field forward by funding innovative research across many disciplines, bring new researchers in the myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) field, and provide seed dollars so that researchers can go on to obtain funds for larger studies in their areas of expertise. In 2017, we chose five scientifically diverse teams to fund. We are proud to introduce you to our 2017 Ramsay Research Team 2.
Lubov Nathanson, PhD, an Assistant Professor and Research Scientist at Nova Southeastern University, is lead investigator on a Ramsay 2017 project exploring altered genetic expression in the immune cells of ME/CFS patients. In a previous study, Dr. Nathanson used a mix of immune cells (PBMC) to evaluate the potential role of DNA methylation, an epigenetic process that can turn genes on or off, in ME/CFS. Team 2 seeks tofurther that work by evaluating six main subtypes of immune cells to determine the impact of epigenetic regulation on each cell population.
You can read the Research Team 2 study abstract here.
SMCI: How did this multidisciplinary, international team come together for your Ramsay-supported project?
Nathanson: I first started to work on ME/CFS about 10 years ago when I was still a director of the Gene Expression and Microarray Core Facility at the University of Miami (UM). Dr. Klimas and Dr. Fletcher decided to run microarrays in our Core and to investigate differences in gene expression in ME/CFS patients compared to healthy controls. It was the first time that I heard about this disease. Performing data analysis, I have learned about ME/CFS, and later, when Dr. Klimas moved to Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and offered me a position to work on ME/CFS, I happily accepted it. Here at NSU, I met Dr. Vladimir Beljanski (expert in cell biology and design of therapies) and Dr. Malav Trivedi (expert in epigenetics).
Dr. Elisa Oltra did her PhD at UM while I was doing my postdoctoral studies there in the same department. When we both learned that we work on ME/CFS, it was a very natural, quickly developed collaboration.
SMCI: What motivates you to work on ME/CFS?
Nathanson: This is a very complex multi-symptom and [relatively unknown] disease. The cause and underlying mechanism of ME/CFS are still not known. ME/CFS has huge impact on people’s lives and national economies, however, relatively very few scientists work on solving the mystery of this disease. Our lab is located next to the clinic, and we can see patients walking into the clinic. Seeing these patients motivates us to find the cause of ME/CFS and design the cure.
SMCI: How might determining epigenetic changes in specific immune cell types advance our understanding of immune system dysfunction in ME/CFS?
Nathanson: Epigenetic changes can regulate gene expression. There are few studies for characterizing epigenetic changes in patients with ME/CFS. The results implicate the role of immune function. However, the specific role of each immune cell type as well as the [particular] genes being altered in such immune cells is not characterized. The current study will advance our understanding of epigenetic signaling changes for several specific immune cell types and tease out the specific pathways that affect these cells in patients with ME/CFS.
SMCI: What are the possible applications to more targeted treatments?
Nathanson: Characterizing specific pathways and specific genes that are altered at the epigenetic status in the different immune cells would allow us to identify targeting modalities that are altered in these cells and can be employed for therapeutic approaches.
SMCI: Do you view the Ramsay competitive grant program as a good way to support dedicated researchers and attract new talent to the field?
Nathanson: The Ramsay award is a great support for pilot projects and collaborating with researchers to form an interdisciplinary team. Dr. Elisa Oltra has substantial experience with ME/CFS, however, we also have in our group Dr. Malav Trivedi who is an experienced researcher in the field of epigenetics and oxidative stress metabolism in the field of neurological disorders. [Prior to this Ramsay project], his expertise had not been applied to the field of ME/CFS. Similarly, Dr. Vladimir Beljanski is an expert in the field of autophagy, pathway analysis and design of therapies; he will help undertake functional genomic analysis. Hence, the Ramsay award not only allows but encourages such new researchers to apply their expertise and skill set to the field of ME/CFS.
SMCI: What are your observations on the progress currently being made in ME/CFS research and what can be done to move the field forward?
Nathanson: ME/CFS research needs more validation. It means that [replicative] studies and exchange of samples between groups from different geographic locations should be encouraged.