Friday, March 21, 2014
Dr. Jose Montoya and the Stanford ME/CFS Symposium
It is March 19, 2014 and I have come to Palo Alto for a one-day conference at Stanford University. The weather here is ideal - sunny and warm. I take the long, familiar walk up the allee to the conference - past the Caltrain station, past the museum. This is familiar territory to me, having been here many times in the past - for much different purposes. The air is full of anticipation. It is exciting to come to a major university for an ME/CFS conference.
This conference is the product of one remarkable person: Dr. Jose Montoya.
Dr. Montoya has single-handedly forged this ME/CFS research collaboration at Stanford. There is nothing of its breadth and scope anywhere else in the world.
Seven years ago or more, Dr. Montoya, an infectious disease doctor, stumbled upon ME/CFS. At that time, his burgeoning interest in this illness did not seem to be particularly welcome to his colleagues at Stanford. An outsider might have given Dr. Montoya no chance of making headway in this environment. Why would an infectious disease doctor want to waste their time on CFS? In spite of this resistance, Dr. Montoya forged ahead - and he has created a very strong collaborative research team, including the likes of Dr. Ron Davis. It is a remarkable story.
The series of conference lectures was impressive. The morning’s session included Dr. Jarred Younger’s “Daily Fluctuations of Cytokines in ME/CFS patients,” and the afternoon was highlighted by a presentation by Marcie and Mark Zinn entitled “Quantitative EEG studies Suggest Subcortical Pathology in ME/CFS." (Others, here, and here, will present a more detailed explanation of these lectures and the scientific strengths of this conference.)
The final two lectures were what I had come to see: Jose Montoya and Ian Lipkin.
Dr. Montoya’s lecture “Circulating Cytokines in ME/CFS Patients reveal a novel Inflammatory and Autoimmune Profile” articulated the results of his long-standing research into cytokines in ME/CFS. For a number of years, Dr. Montoya has been looking to create a cytokine signature and he looks like he might have done this. Over the years I have asked Dr. Montoya how his work towards a cytokine signature was progressing. Each time he said that it was going well and that he was taking his time to make sure that “he got it right”. Now the time of “getting it right” has arrived. Dr. Montoya invites criticism of his work in order to strengthen it.
Dr. Ian Lipkin gave his generic lecture, aimed at college freshman science majors. I found it fascinating, but, in reality, he was actually addressing a room full of hard-core scientists. One wonders. At the end he tacked on additional work coming out of the Chronic Fatigue Initiative at Columbia. His results continue to be unimpressive - and we wait for publication of some of his work.
A young woman asked Dr. Lipkin about Enteroviruses and ME/CFS. He gave a vague, evasive answer. Later I asked Dr. Lipkin specifically about Dr. John Chia’s work. Dr. Lipkin professed to not know of Dr. Chia, or of his 2007 paper, or actually of any of Dr. Chia’s work. I found this difficult to believe. Dr. Lipkin did say that he believed that the stool sample work, for which he is hawking support, would reveal Enteroviral involvement. According to others, others that actually know something about Enteroviruses, this is not possible.
The sold-out conference took place in a large room filled with round tables with chairs and three large screens for slides. It was an ideal situation in which to see and hear the presenters, and the format was constructed in such a way as to encourage interaction. It was a great conference, tightly focused, no bullshit.
Obviously, Dr. Montoya’s efforts have paid off and he now has a momentum to study and treat ME/CFS at Stanford. How lucky can we be? He and his collaborators are producing significant results and garnering attention from the larger science world. This is what is necessary in this ME/CFS illness discovery - serious consolidation and collaboration. The great success of this conference only guarantees that Dr. Montoya and his colleagues will be back with more information, more research, more results, and more hope in the very near future. Dr. Montoya has done what everyone wants to do in life - but very few can actually pull off. I take my hat off to this fellow.
If one wants to learn more about Dr. Montoya, check out this video: