Scientists are curious by nature and love to tackle tough problems. Historically, ME/CFS has not received the broad attention from the research community that is needed. ME/CFS is ripe for discovery and an influx of more talented investigators is critical to drive progress.
The SolveCFS BioBank is an important resource to attract the brightest investigators from the best medical institutions into the field of ME/CFS. Since its inception in 2010, the SolveCFS BioBank has provided biological samples and clinical information to ten investigators and all but one were new to ME/CFS research! Manuscripts have been published, more are in preparation and some of these investigators are using these results to apply for bigger funding to continue their work. A resource like the SolveCFS BioBank is lowering the barriers to participation in the field of advancing ME/CFS research. It is also a way for patients and their loved ones to be directly involved in this progress.
Here is a snapshot of two investigators applying cutting edge technology to discovery of ME/CFS biomarkers.
Discovering Biomarkers on Genes
Patrick McGowan, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Dr. McGowan is a young investigator new to ME/CFS research and a recipient of our CFIDS Association research grant funding. He is one of the first to study epigenetics in ME/CFS. He is working to determine differences in the way the DNA is chemically modified between ME/CFS patients compared to controls. These chemical changes can affect how the DNA is expressed and regulated. These chemical changes to DNA can occur in response to such things as nutrition, infection and physical and mental trauma.
“Epigenetics is really a funnel by which the outside environment interacts with the genome,” explains McGowan. This, in turn, influences how cells work (or don’t work.) Research shows that epigenetic changes are implicated in numerous diseases, including cancer, asthma and heart disease and, if Dr. McGowan is right, epigenetics may also play a role in ME/CFS.
He is using blood samples from the SolveCFS BioBank to look for epigenetic differences. A sneak peek at some of the results in the graph shows three genes important for immune function have significantly different epigenetic patterns. Gene X has less methylation while Gene Y and Z have greater percentage of methylation in ME/CFS patients. These methylation patterns were validated with an independent technique. Dr. McGowan is preparing these results for publication.
Eric L. Delwart, Ph.D., is a professor of Laboratory Medicine at the University of California San Francisco and Blood Systems Research Institute. His research focuses on discovering new viruses using next generation sequencing technology. He wanted to find out if there was a new, previously undiscovered virus associated with ME/CFS.
To look for new viruses in ME/CFS patients, Delwart took plasma samples and treated the samples to concentrate all possible virus particles in the sample. The genetic material from the virus concentrate was sequenced to identify all possible viruses present in the blood of ME/CFS patients. Viruses detected in plasma may indicate an ongoing, active infection.
Viruses from 19 families were identified. No new, novel or highly divergent viruses were identified in the ME/CFS blood samples. Further research is needed to determine if these same viruses are present at similar levels in the blood of healthy controls. Differences in viruses in ME/CFS patients could be used as “virus profile” biomarkers. It will also be important to apply these powerful next generation sequencing technologies to other types of samples from ME/CFS patients.
In the next post of this 4-part series we’ll delve into the important research from more additional investigators.
If you missed the first on the series, read it HERE
Want to know more about BioBank eligibility? Find it HERE
Or contact Gloria E. Smith, SolveCFS BioBank Coordinator, (704) 362-2343, firstname.lastname@example.org