The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recently awarded one of three five-year Center grants to Derya Unutmaz, M.D. of The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), who has the hope of laying the scientific groundwork to develop reliable biomarkers for ME/CFS by utilizing systems biology approaches to determine the biological correlations of this disease. Derya Unutmaz will act as the Program Director for the CRC, with Julia Oh as the Associate Program Director. They are joined by Courtney Gunter, who will act as an Administrator and Patient Advocacy and Outreach specialist. The CRC will also involve a Steering Committee composed of several patient advocacy groups; MEAction and SolveMECFS, as well as local ME/CFS patients who can provide valuable insight on how to engage the community and give hope to those suffering with ME/CFS.
ME/CFS and healthy control blood and stool samples will be collected through the CRC Clinical Core, at the Bateman Horne Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is led by Cindy Bateman and Suzanne Vernon. Samples will then be analyzed at JAX-CRC. In addition, the CRC in collaboration with Linda Avey of Precise.ly, will develop an ME/CFS questionnaire and online tracking platform for patients in the community to track their symptoms via online application.
The Clinical Project is based on the hypothesis that immune dysfunction is a central etiology of ME/CFS, and the goal of the project is to define likely correlates of the disease that center on the microbiome and metabolome as immune triggers as well as to guide the mechanistic work proposed by the Research Project. JAX scientist Dr. Peter Robinson, a computational expert, will lead this project and hopes to establish ME/CFC clinical ontology. Dr. Julia Oh and Mark Adams will perform microbial sequencing and analysis, Dr. Unutmaz will be responsible for performing high-resolution immune profiling, and metabolomics analysis will be done through JAX core facilities. Dr. Alison Motsinger-Reif of North Carolina State University will be the lead for biostatistics.
The Research Project will investigate the molecular mechanisms by which the ME/CFS microbiome interacts with the immune system to cause disease, with the hypothesis that abnormalities in immune activation are likely key contributors to ME/CFS disease severity. JAX scientist Dr. Julia Oh, a microbiome specialist and Associate Director for the CRC, will lead this project. Dr. Unutmaz is the immunology expert for the project; he and his team will develop a variety of immunological and transcriptomic assays to probe the patient-derived microbiota. Dr. Xudong Yao of the University of Connecticut will help in identifying specific metabolites derived from bacteria that may also be involved in ME/CFS. Dr. Paul Robson, a worldwide expert on single cell sequencing, will help with the gene expression analysis in patient-derived immune cells.
The Jax ME/CFS CRC will also begin to make information more available to patients around the world about the study through this blog, a Youtube channel with informational videos about the project and science, and through Dr. Unutmaz’s Twitter account at https://twitter.com/Derya_