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Is overall genome instability cause of ME/CFS? $133K study may help answer that

  [ 17 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • April 2, 2012

A national foundation has sought out a Wayne State University researcher in an effort to discover whether overall genome instability rather than a specific molecular mechanism may cause chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS).

Henry Heng, PhD, associate professor at the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics & department of pathology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine, recently received a $133,000 grant from the National CFIDS Foundation in collaboration with the Nancy Taylor Foundation for Chronic Diseases.

Dr. Heng is to assess disease damage in patients with CFIDS, which also is known as chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME).

He will use an advanced type of genomic testing to look for chromosomal aberrations or genomic instability in CFS/ ME patients.

Dr. Heng believes scientists who have looked to single genes / mutations as the cause of diseases with complex sets of symptoms need to broaden their search to genomes.

That belief is based on his work of 10 years on cancer, which has demonstrated that cancer progresses primarily through random chromosomal changes.

Though that concept seemed hard for some to accept five to seven years ago, says Dr. Heng, the scientific community has started to come around.

In 2007 producers at the Discovery Channel sought to establish the existence of Gulf War syndrome and asked Dr. Heng to test samples of soldiers' blood: Those samples were found to contain damaged chromosomes.

"To our surprise,” said Dr. Heng, “we found that all of the GWI patients tested showed extremely high levels of chromosomal abnormality that were as high or higher than some cancer patients." The researchers proposed that “under the extreme environment of war, some individuals’ genomes will become increasingly unstable, and war-induced genetic instability will lead to diverse disease traits that can be characterized as GWI.”

An official at the National CFIDS Foundation saw the program and agreed.

Reasoning that CFIDS, like cancer, is a complex disease with a wide range of symptoms and varying degrees of severity, the official asked Dr. Heng to investigate it.

Dr. Heng's project, "Linking Genomic Instability to Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome," will use spectral karyotyping, or SKY analysis, to evaluate whether the process may reveal instability similar to Gulf War syndrome in CFIDS/ME.

Essentially that process would demonstrate whether CFIDS/ME has a common physical basis.

His team will culture patients' blood and perform SKY analysis, which paints each chromosome with a unique color to identify random genome aberrations that might be linked to symptoms.

"For a long time people have studied gene mutation-based genetic diseases, believing if you found the right mutation, you could cure the disease," says Dr. Heng. "But this is misleading thinking, because most common complex diseases are not caused by one or two genes, but a whole package of genome alterations.

"However, we have discovered that chromosomal change has a more profound effect in many diseases. Our group has shown that random chromosomal changes matter.

"We really need to know the problem we face rather than engage in wishful thinking."

Source: Based on Wayne State University news releases, Mar 30, 2012, and  Apr 7, 2011

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