Specifically, the CFI is funding some important epidemiological research at Harvard. Researchers there will look at a large group of nurses and health professionals that already have been followed for many years to see who develops “CFS” and what happens to them over time. Hopefully, this will provide the longitudinal picture of the disease that has been lacking up to now, as well as insights into predisposing factors. They will examine a large sample of men and women with “CFS” to determine what environmental exposures they have had. This, too, has been poorly understood. Hopefully, they will be able to begin to understand whether viral infections lead to environmental sensitivities or vice versa (i.e., environmental exposures adversely affect the immune system which makes patients prone to re-activation of old viral infections or acquisition of new ones). This population of patients, as well as the group of nurses, apparently has blood available from both before and after becoming ill, so there is the potential to look at what specific triggers do to various blood tests. This could enhance our understanding considerably. One hopes that they will also be looking at geographic and family clusters--if not now, soon.
CFI is also hoping to clarify pathogenesis by recruiting 200 well-characterized “CFS” patients with the help of Drs. Klimas, Bateman, Peterson and Montoya, as well as 200 healthy matched controls. They will collect clinical data and biological samples from the two groups, looking for clues about what causes the disease. They will store the biological samples in a centralized biobank at Duke University. The samples will be available to other researchers for study. Once this database is complete Dr. Ian Lipkin and Dr. Mady Hornig will be using the samples to look for novel viruses or other pathogens. Again, this is a long-delayed effort that is sorely needed and has the potential to be very productive.
Finally, the CFI is establishing a program called Mechanism of Illness that will provide grants for research looking for the mechanisms involved in “CFS”. The first grant is funding a Fellow in Infectious Diseases at the New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. It is important to train new clinicians and researchers who will spend their careers studying and treating ME/CFS. We can hope that other grants under this program will advance the understanding of ME/CFS.
The CFI states that its aim is to fund programs which will stimulate interest in “CFS” and result in increasing commitments by other institutions to research. Certainly, the efforts of the WPI over the past two years have done that. We can certainly hope that the CFI will help to continue that momentum.