NIH Awards $4 Million in Funding for Seven CFS Studies

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One of these will establish a brain and spinal cord tissue bank, to be made available for other studies of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.

The National Institutes of Health announced it has awarded $4 million in funding for seven “innovative, interdisciplinary” new studies of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). According to the NIH, the studies, described below, “could lead to major advances in understanding the disease processes of CFS… provide diagnostic biomarkers that can be used to measure treatment effects… help us understand why some of the known treatments are effective… and lead to the development of newer and more targeted remedies.”

The awards were made following a special Request for Applications (RFA) that the NIH issued in July 2005, responding to advocacy efforts led by the CFIDS Association of America designed to stimulate interest in CFS research and send a signal that opportunities exist in this field of study.

Of the 29 research proposals submitted in response to the RFA, seven were awarded grants. Five of the NIH’s institutes are providing the funding: the Office of Research on Women’s Health, and the institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, Arthritis Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Of the following seven NIH-funded CFS studies, three will be led by researchers with long experience in CFS research, and four by investigators new to the field.


University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Kathleen Light, PhD
“Stress and Neuroimmune Dysregulation in Chronic Fatigue Patients."

Dr. Light plans to first explore in humans the suggested mechanisms for the perception of pain and fatigue in CFS by assessing repeated patterns in the immune and neurological systems that are present before, during, and immediately after mental and physical exertion. There is a possibility that findings will lead to the development of a biomarker for CFS.

Her second pilot study will focus on identifying family risk patterns in CFS using the Utah Family Data Base (a large genealogy database) to explore the familial/genetic component of CFS. Identifying a genetic predisposition to CFS will assist in the development of more effective medications.


Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts
Theoharis Theoharides, MD, PhD
“Mast Cells, Antidepressants and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Dr. Theoharides will explore the relationship of human mast cells (molecules released in stress) in the brain, not only in explaining the development of CFS but also in explaining the effects of antidepressants in relieving symptoms in CFS patients. Dr. Theoharides will examine the cellular changes that explain CFS symptoms using three different classes of antidepressants: tricyclic, serotonin uptake inhibitors, and bupropion.

Future studies will build on these findings to develop clinical trials of select antidepressants or other molecules that inhibit CFS.


University of Miami, Miami, Florida
Mary Ann Fletcher, PhD
“Neuropeptide Y and Dipeptidyl-peptidase IV (CD26) in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Dr. Fletcher plans to study the role of specific peptides: neuropeptide Y (NPY) and dipeptidyl-peptidase (CD26) in the development of CFS. These peptides, formed from amino acids (the basic building blocks of the body that are essential in combating illness), regulate many physiological and disease processes in the cardio-respiratory, immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. This study will also examine aspects of the relationship between different levels of peptides and the severity of CFS symptoms, and may lead to the development of biomarkers.


Sun Health Research Institute, Sun City, Arizona
Dianne Lorton, PhD
“Human Spinal Cord Glial Cytokines and Chronic Pain.”

Dr. Lorton will establish a tissue bank to make brain and spinal cord tissue available for the study of CFS and FM (Fibromyalga). She has gathered an interdisciplinary research team that will determine the extent to which chronic pain in these patients is associated with glial (support cells of the nervous system) activation and resulting production of cytokine (compounds essential to engage the immune response). While studies in rodents have shown that this activation leads to inflammation and chronic pain, Dr. Lorton will test the extent to which this process is involved in humans, in order to target mechanisms to treat the chronic pain associated with CFS.


Georgetown University, Washington, DC
James Baraniuk, MD
“Proteomics of Cerebrospinal Fluid in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Dr. Baraniuk has found that despite its diverse clinical syndromes, the CFS proteome (the entire group of proteins in an organism or system) is the same, suggesting a strong relationship with malfunctioning of the central nervous system. Dr. Baraniuk developed the first predictive model of CFS based solely on objective data, and he now proposes to recruit a new group of CFS and Healthy Control subjects to determine if the proteins in their cerebrospinal fluid will be a predictive marker of the spectrum of CFS symptoms.

There is a high probability that these methods and markers will be of diagnostic value and will be useful for assessing changes over time in disease severity and treatment effects.


University of Miami, Miami, Florida
Michael Antoni, PhD
“Cognitive Behavioral Stress Management for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Dr. Antoni has demonstrated the positive effects of participation in group cognitive behavioral stress management (CBSM) on quality of life, perceived stress, fatigue, memory, muscle pain, and post-exertional malaise for CFS patients compared to those in a control condition.

Many CFS patients are too debilitated to attend regular therapy sessions. Therefore, in the present study, he will test the physiological effects of a telephone-based cognitive behavioral stress management intervention to illuminate CFS patients' neuroimmune mechanisms in relation to stress and stress management. The correlation of the neuroimmune parameters and the behavioral components promises to identify a biologically useful marker for CFS.


Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
Italo Biaggioni, MD
“Autonomic Nervous System in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Dr. Biaggioni will explicate the role of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) in the cardiovascular and inflammatory abnormalities in the subset of patients with postural tachycardia (POTS) – an increase in heart rate and often decrease in blood pressure on standing.

Preliminary studies indicate a relationship between the mechanisms underlying POTS and CFS symptoms. Dr. Biaggioni will test these hypotheses in a comprehensive set of experiments with appropriate controls.

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