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NIH Awards $7M to Fund Chronic Fatigue Research Consortium

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has earmarked more than $7 million in fiscal 2017 to support a multicenter initiative to study the role of genetics and other factors in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

The funding will be provided to three collaborative research centers — at Cornell University, Columbia University, and The Jackson Laboratory — as well as a data management and coordinating center (DMCC) at the Research Triangle Institute.

"These important grants will provide a strong foundation for expanding research in ME/CFS, and lead to knowledge about the causes and ways to treat people affected by this mysterious, heartbreaking, and debilitating disease," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement.

A team led by Cornell's Maureen Hanson, along with collaborators from other institutions, will investigate the biological mechanisms underlying ME/CFS by obtaining blood samples and conducting brain scans on individuals with ME/CFS before and after they undergo an exercise test designed to bring on symptoms of post-exertional malaise, the NIH said. These investigators will use various tools and technologies to study the role of genes, inflammation, and the immune system in the disease.

At the second center, Columbia's Ian Lipkin will lead a team aiming to look at the role of infection and immunity in ME/CFS. They will use high-throughput sequencing, high-density peptide arrays, and immune signature assays to analyze an existing collection of biological samples from ME/CFS patients and healthy controls for molecular footprints of bacterial, fungal, and viral agents and corresponding immune responses. The researchers also plan to profile the plasma metabolome and peripheral blood mononuclear cell transcriptome in the same individuals, and mine databases at Columbia and the Hutchins Family Foundation Chronic Fatigue Initiative to gain insights into clinical features, comorbidities, and subtypes that can be used to refine laboratory analyses and ME/CFS patient care.

The third center is being led by Jackson Lab researcher Derya Unutmaz, whose group will examine how the immune system, the microbiome, and patient metabolism interact in ME/CFS. The DMCC, which will be overseen by Rick Williams at the Research Triangle Institute, will integrate project data into a single database, provide data-processing and analytical tools, and manage efforts to standardize data collected by the research teams.

"These grants will use innovative technologies and research methods to unravel this devastating disease, which we know so little about," Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and chair of the Trans-NIH ME/CFS working group, added in the statement.