“Blood-brain barrier imaging as a biomarker for ME/CFS”
Principal Investigator: Alon Friedman (MD, PhD)
Dalhousie University and Emagix, Inc.

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“Blood-brain barrier imaging as a biomarker for ME/CFS”
Principal Investigator: Alon Friedman (MD, PhD)
Dalhousie University and Emagix, Inc.


Collaborators: Steven Beyea, PhDChris Bowen, PhDJaveria Hashmi, PhD, and Lyna Kamintsky, PhD
Dalhousie University and Emagix, Inc.

Alon Friedman, PhD, (Principal Investigator) is founder and CEO of Emagix, an AI software, as well as a professor of neuroscience. Dr. Friedman’s research focus is on how the interaction between components of the neurovascular network (e.g. nerve cells, glia and vasculature) underlies abnormal brain functions. 

Javeria Hashmi, PhD, is an assistant professor and a Canada Research Chair Tier II (Pain) nominee who has trained in brain imaging and pain research. Her lab’s main focus is on chronic pain mechanisms and therapy. 

The team will complete a study to assess blood-brain barrier (BBB) integrity in the brains of people with ME/CFS and of controls. A “leaky” BBB often correlates with neuroinflammation, which researchers believe could contribute to symptoms of ME/CFS. However, it has not previously been possible to assess leaky blood vessels in meaningful detail. This proposal would use a recently improved magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to assess leakage of the BBB, along with other measures of brain structure and function. 

Study Summary

This research aims to address the challenge of reliable and objective clinical diagnosis of ME/CFS. The wide range of symptoms associated with the disorder and the lack of uniform diagnostic criteria result in frequent misdiagnoses and improper treatment. On average, individuals with ME/CFS receive their diagnosis five years after symptoms appear.

To target this challenge, we aim to establish an objective and reliable method for diagnosing ME/CFS using MRI. We have developed a novel MRI approach that maps the integrity of small blood vessels in the brain and identifies brain regions with leaky vasculature. Importantly, leaky blood vessels have been suggested to play a role in ME/CFS symptoms since they allow leakage of substances from the blood to the brain. Such leakage causes inflammation in brain tissue (neuroinflammation) which is suggested to be a key feature of ME/CFS.  

We propose to conduct the first study investigating the health of brain vasculature in ME/CFS patients and to test whether the newly developed MRI approach can allow the diagnosis of ME/CFS. 

In this one-year proof-of-concept study we will scan 20 patients with ME/CFS and 20 healthy individuals (similar in age and sex). The occurrence and extent of leaky blood vessels will be compared between the two groups. We will next characterize which brain networks are affected by leaky blood vessels, and whether this pathology is associated with other brain abnormalities detectable using additional cutting-edge MRI techniques.   

We expect to find greater occurrence of leaky blood vessels in the brains of patients with ME/CFS compared to controls and to identify specific brain networks that are more likely to be affected than others. We further anticipate that brain networks with leaky blood vessels will be associated with abnormalities in their structure, function, and volume.  

The results of this research will provide the preliminary evidence necessary for conducting a larger study that would allow the diagnostic validation of the approach in a large number of patients with ME/CFS. Moreover, the insights from this work may set the stage for the development of new ME/CFS treatments that target the health of the brain’s blood vessels and neuroinflammation.  

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