Dr. Maureen Hanson has been all over the place in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) lately.
Hailing from Duke and Harvard and now at Cornell she has quite a pedigree. With a family member with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), she also has a personal stake in this disease, and has penned several editorials supporting ME/CFS research. Her "Be Aware and Beware" Huffington Post blog and her Congressional Hill post "When Hoofbeats are Zebras" showed that she's not afraid to leave the laboratory and get out and advocate. At every opportunity she makes it very clear that ME/CFS is a real disorder. Her last gut study went viral and was picked up by over 50 media outlets.
She recently spoke at the Invest in ME Conference, and at the Simmaron Patient event, and is on the scientific board of the Simmaron Research Foundation.
As and added bonus she appears to be very good at getting NIH grants. She first popped up in ME/CFS with a grant to study XMRV in 2011. Since 2011 she's gotten three R21 grants on ME/CFS, and is a collaborator on a big RO1 immune functioning grant with Fabian Campagne at Cornell. She's also being funded by the Hitchens Foundation's Chronic Fatigue Initiative. She seems to have a talent for taking on interesting studies. She's definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Now she's moving into metabolomics. In the Solve ME/CFS webinar this week Hanson revealed that a small metabolomics study she pieced together using donations had replicated Naviaux's core finding - that ME/CFS is hypometabolic disorder.
Her study was smaller than Naviaux's: compare the 80 or so patients/controls and 612 metabolites measured in his study to the 32 patients/controls and 361 metabolites in the Hanson pilot study. All the participants n her study were also female and all came from an ME/CFS expert, Dr. Susan Levine, who has been collaborating heavily with Dr. Hanson.
Naviaux noted that the field is moving so quickly that it lacks standardization and this study showed it. The Hanson team used a different kind of mass spectrometer, and handled the samples differently. In fact, the way Hanson was talking, it sounded like everything was done differently in the Hanson study.
Nevertheless, Hanson's core findings were strikingly similar to Naviaux's. She found an almost across the board reduction in metabolite levels; fully eighty-eight percent of the metabolites in the ME/CFS patients were reduced (compared to 84% in Naviaux's study.)
Some similar pathways (phospholipids, purines, proline, fatty acid metabolism) showed up and others did not. The dramatic sphingolipid reductions Naviaux found, for instance, did not show up in the Hanson study, and Hanson found several pathways that did not show up in the Naviaux study.
Hanson suggested that the completely different methods used as well as the different geographic region the patients hailed from could explain the differences found. Whatever the differences found, the core finding of a distinct hypometabolism in chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) clearly excited Hanson and she stated:
"The similarities are very promising for metabolomics to give some very useful information about ME/CFS"
Click to expand...
Hanson's metabolomic money is gone, but she's applying for an NIH grant. Scoring a big ROI grant - say $3,000,000 over several years - would, of course, be a major step forward for metabolomic research in ME/CFS.
How to Fit Many Symptoms into One Core Pathology ...
With the Chronic Fatigue Initiative's help, Hanson has also been studying mitochondrial genetics. Naviaux has stated that people with ME/CFCS do not have a genetic mitochondrial disease, and Hanson's results backed that assertion up; in fact, none of the almost 200 patients tested had anything suggesting an inherited mitochondrial condition. She did, however, find evidence - as Ron Davis has suggested - that genetic polymorphisms could be producing different symptoms in different ME/CFS patients.
Maureen Hanson's Solve ME/CFS Initiative Webinar
One altered mitochondrial DNA gene, for instance, appeared to be associated with gut symptoms; another was correlated with chemical sensitivity - a problem that gets almost no research attention - but can be terribly impactful. (Dr. Naviaux believes, interestingly enough, that low energy states lend themselves to hypersensitivity reactions. )Hanson's study suggested genetic differences in the mitochondria could result in widely varying symptoms in ME/CFS. She noted though, that much, much larger studies are needed to validate her findings.
Hanson is not by any means done with the mitochondria; she is also examining the mitochondrial functioning of NK, T and B cells. The poor functioning of NK cells is one of the most consistently found immune abnormalities in ME/CFS, but problems with T-cell functioning have also been found, and reports of poorly functioning B-cells have shown up as well.
Could the immune problems in ME/CFS be caused by a hypo-metabolic or under-energized immune system? Hanson will use an Agilent device to determine if problems with glyoclysis - the energy pathway that releases ATP and ATP through the conversion of glucose - are sending immune cells into a somnolent state.
Hanson then went on talk about her recent gut findings which included a reduction (another reduction) in diversity and abundance of microbial species in ME/CFS. She also suggested that the reduction in microbial diversity seen in an ill twin might be associated with that twins reduced aerobic capacity.
A New Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Center
In some very good news Hanson announced that the Dean at Cornell has allowed Dr. Hanson to create a new ME/CFS research center called the "Center for Enervating NeuroImmune Disease" (CEND). (Enervating means feeling weak and lacking in energy). The Center will collaborate with Betsy Keller at Ithaca College. It contains three researchers, involves eight labs which have or are applying for an ME/CFS grant, and is working with no less than five physicians - and Hanson hopes it will grow significantly.
The fact that Hanson felt it was time to create a formal center for ME/CFS at Cornell, plus her ability to hit the ground running with a strong staff is very encouraging particularly at Cornell - which has a top ranked Medical School. The new Center will surely be a strong candidate for the projected NIH research consortium.
Maureen Hanson is clearly the kind of researcher we've been looking for and hope to get more of. She's very committed, she can get grants, she's daring enough to start an ME/CFS research center and she clearly works well with others.
Some ME/CFS Metabolomic / Metabolic Studies Coming Up
The Naviaux study really caught our attention but a surprising number of other groups are doing metabolomics/metabolic/mitochondrial studies. McGregor in Australia, for instance, has been studying metabolism/metabolomics in ME/CFS for years. Here are some metabolomic / mitochondrial studies underway.
o Hanson's small ME/CFS metabolic study (under review now).
o The Naviaux/Ron Davis OMF funded expansion of Naviaux's recent study
o Naviaux's studycomparing the metabolome of ME/CFS patients and other diseases
o Hanson's NK, T and B cell energy production study
o The Lipkin/Hornig study tying metabolomics results in the blood to their gut findings.
o The Bateman Horne Center/Watanabe Japanese metabolomics study. In what is clearly a Suzanne Vernon study, the Watanabe study, a Michael Hougton Canadian Cytokine Study, and Alan Light's Autoantibody study will all use the same 100 patients samples - thus allowing them potentially to merge their findings.....
o Nath's metabolic chamber study in the Intramural study
o Several studies from Armstrong and McGregor in Australia
o The SolveME/CFS in house mitochondrial study (more on that later.)
The Bateman-Horne Study
Depression - Sometimes a Metabolic Disorder?
ME/CFS might not be the only disease which may get turned around by metabolomics. Let's take a quick look at a metabolomic study that could turn the medical profession's conception of depression - a disease that's often been confused with ME/CFS by doctors - upside down.
The potential breakthrough started, as many breakthroughs do, with one patient. As reported in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, frustrated doctors who had run out of options with a treatment resistant young man with suicidal depression, turned to a biochemical geneticist for help.
The geneticist suggested doing a metabolic analysis of the young mans cerebral spinal fluid. That analysis turned the his life around. After finding that he had deficient levels of a protein called tetrahydrobiopterin, or BH4, they began treating him with a substance called sapropterin. He was able to recover, return to school and is now working in his chosen field.
After getting the same results in five other treatment resistant depressed patients, the group began a larger study looking at hundreds of metabolites in the spinal fluid of 33 patients. About two thirds of them displayed significant metabolic abnormalities; of those more than half (12/21) had the same cerebral folate deficiency found in the young man. All showed improvements including reductions in suicidal thoughts on a high dose regimen of folinic acid.
For some young people on the protocol the improvements have been dramatic. The parents of one 13 year stated that within a month of taking the folinic acid, “we felt like we had our Ben back."
This isn't to say that all the patients had that kind of result, but it does indicate the power of this technology to uncover new insights that can lead to dramatic improvements even in seemingly intractable diseases like treatment resistant depression (and who knows...perhaps ME/CFS.)
What would, one wonders, a metabolomic analysis of ME/CFS patients cerebral spinal fluid find?
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