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Dr. Kenny De Meirleir – Man on the Move for ME/CFS

kenny demeirleirA profile of world-renowned clinician and researcher Dr. Kenny De Meirleir, MD, PhD – part of a series highlighting the accomplishments of ME/CFS Fair Name Implementation Committee (FNIC) members.

Dr. Kenny De Meirleir has been a man on the move ever since he crossed paths with ME/CFS. To “busy physician,” “prolific researcher,” and “sought-after international speaker,” you can add editor of the former Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, co-creator of both the Canadian Consensus and Pediatric Definitions of ME/CFS, author, medical journal reviewer, advisory board member (recently including the IACFS/ME, HHV-6 Foundation, Health Canada, ProHealth), adjunct Professor to the Institute for Molecular Medicine… the list just goes on and on.

As involved as he is now, it’s hard to imagine a time when Dr. De Meirleir was not involved in ME/CFS. Graduating magna cum laude from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, his early work in exercise physiology and metabolism in exercise earned him several distinctions including the Solvay Prize and a NATO research award. After a decade of work in that field he turned to fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. In 1997 he co-authored his first paper on RNase L dysfunction – a field of study he would quickly come to dominate.

In 2002 Dr. De Meirleir and Dr. Patrick Englebienne co-edited and co-authored the first and still only book-length treatise containing a unified theory of ME/CFS. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Biological Approach [1] asserted that RNase L and other enzymes in the interferon antiviral pathway were implicated in many problems in ME/CFS – including impaired antiviral defenses, pathogen persistence, altered cell suicide, ion channel dysfunction, chemical sensitivity, etc.

Packed with dense technical data derived from years of effort, this landmark publication helped propel RNase-L into a major international research topic. Since the book’s 2002 publication, US, Japanese, Spanish and French researchers have all conducted studies on the enzyme, and it continues to be a popular research topic.

Dr. De Meirleir’s published works cover many other aspects of ME/CFS including sleep, exercise, oxidative stress, musculoskeletal pain, pulmonary function and the hormonal system.

• A 2005 paper was the first to link immune dysregulation with the post-exertional fatigue found in ME/CFS.

• In 2005 he became the first physician to identify unique immune subsets in the disease.

Dr. De Meirleir was also on the cutting edge of an effort to radically redefine ME/CFS that culminated in the first clinical definition of ME/CFS: The Canadian Consensus Definition [2].

Three years later, Dr. De Meirleir went on to contribute in a similar fashion to the first
Pediatric Definition of ME/CFS [3]. Both efforts exposed a deep divide between the Center for Disease Control’s conception of ME/CFS and a significant portion of the ME/CFS research/physician community.

Dr. De Meirleir has continued to plough new ground. His new focus on the gastrointestinal system [4] appeared just before a spate of papers suggested that this system, too, plays a major role in ME/CFS.

[And in mid-2009, Dr. De Meirleir called an international press conference in London to announce his hydrogen sulfide (H2S) theory of ME/CFS, as well as the availability of an H2S home urine test he developed. Some days later, he was listed as one of ten leading European scientists forming a scientific think tank for ME/CFS – the European Society for ME [5].]

A sought after speaker with an engaging sense of humor, Dr. De Meirleir has lectured before patients in U.S, Canada, Europe and Australia. He is currently director of the Human Performance Laboratory and Fatigue Clinic at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel [6] in Belgium.

Looking ahead, we expect to hear much more from this illustrious scientist, wherever the world’s top ME/CFS knowledge-builders convene.
* Cort Johnson, a noted research reporter, is founder of the website Phoenix Rising: A Guide to ME/CFS (http://www.phoenix-cfs.org) and publisher of the bi-monthly Phoenix Rising Newsletter.