In the short time our SolveCFS BioBank has been in operation, it has proven to be an attractive resource drawing some of the best and brightest investigators into ME/CFS research. In this 3rd part of our SolveCFS BioBank series we feature two investigators who are working on biomarker discovery.
Biomarkers (short for biological markers) are measurable characteristics that reflect the severity or presence of some disease states. More generally a biomarker is anything that can be used as an indicator of a particular disease state.
A biomarker can also be used to measure the progress of disease or the effects of treatment. Biomarkers are used to predict serious illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Having a specific marker can help in the detection and treatment of the disease; having a specific biomarker for ME/CFS would be a dramatic step forward, making it easier for a doctor to diagnose quickly.
Stephen J. Elledge, PhD is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. HHMI investigators are a group of select investigators that include Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences. HHMI provides its investigators with long-term funding and the freedom to pursue innovative and high-risk research. HHMI investigators are based at host institutions; Elledge is hosted at Harvard Medical School the in the Department of Genetics.
Elledge has developed a technology that reveals all the viruses targeted by the antibodies in the blood. Elledge hypothesizes that a virus or viruses may cause or sustain ME/CFS so he was excited to learn about the SolveCFS BioBank as a means to access biological samples from patients eager to be part of the solution. Elledge’s cutting-edge technology will create an “antibody barcode” that describes the history of virus infection and exposure. He is using blood samples from our SolveCFS BioBank to determine the kind and number of antibody barcodes in ME/CFS patients.
Antibodies are substances that our body makes as a normal response to an infection. In this image, the virus is the blue object and the antibodies are the “Y” looking objects. Antibodies recognize specific pathogens and, as shown in the image, attach and activate a variety of mechanisms to kill and eliminate the pathogen. Elledge estimates that it will take about 1 year to complete the testing of the SolveCFS BioBank samples. If he is able to identify antibody barcodes specific to ME/CFS, this has the potential to be a biomarker and possibly implicate specific causes of ME/CFS.
One of the respected prizes in science are the Lasker Awards, which recognize those who make major advances in our understanding of human disease. Many Lasker laureates have received Nobel recognition. Michael Houghton, PhD was awarded the 2000 Albert Lasker prize for the discovery of hepatitis C virus. Houghton is currently the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology and Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Alberta. Our community has a Lasker awardee and eminent virologist conducting ME/CFS research. Here’s a glimpse at what Houghton and his team are doing.
Houghton and his team have discovered a biomarker that may have clinical relevance for ME/CFS. So in 2013, he started working with the Solve ME/CFS Initiative and the SolveCFS BioBank to validate this biomarker. They have tested 100 ME/CFS and 79 healthy control blood samples to determine if this biomarker can be validated. Importantly, all the samples being tested are coded so Houghton and his team do not know if the sample is from a patient or control (an individual who does not have ME/CFS.) Once testing is complete, we will send them the code identifying which sample came from a patient and which from a control so the analysis can be completed. We have high hopes that the biomarker will be confirmed.
In order for a biomarker to succeed, it must be validated in a large sample set distinct from the one in which the biomarker was discovered. This helps ensure that it is a replicable and robust biomarker. Once the biomarker is validated, it will go through regulatory review and ultimately be approved for clinical use. The Solve ME/CFS Initiative only supports research methodologies that are rigorous and scientifically sound.
In our next, final post of this 4-part series, we’ll complete our review of the important research underway and tell you more about how you can be involved in moving the science forward.
If you missed part 1 in the series, read it HERE
If you missed part 2 in the series, read it HERE