Immune System Discovery at the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University

Columbia University, Center for Infection and Immunity, has news of exciting  new research, on their website on Feb 27th 2015

“Researchers at the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health identified distinct immune changes in patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, known medically as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) or systemic exertion intolerance disease.”  The research is published in the new American Association for the Advancement of Science journal, Science Advances

“This study delivers what has eluded us for so long: unequivocal evidence of immunological dysfunction in ME/CFS and diagnostic biomarkers for disease,” says senior author W. Ian Lipkin, MD, also the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School. “The question we are trying to address in a parallel microbiome project is what triggers this dysfunction.”

This is an unusually large and rigorous study with 298 patients and 348 healthy controls.

“The study supports the idea that ME/CFS may reflect an infectious “hit-and-run” event. Patients often report getting sick, sometimes from something as common as infectious mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr virus), and never fully recover. The new research suggests that these infections throw a wrench in the immune system’s ability to quiet itself after the acute infection, to return to a homeostatic balance; the immune response becomes like a car stuck in high gear. “It appears that ME/CFS patients are flush with cytokines until around the three-year mark, at which point the immune system shows evidence of exhaustion and cytokine levels drop,” says Dr. Hornig.

“..the researchers used immunoassay testing methods to determine the levels of 51 immune biomarkers in blood plasma samples..  They found specific patterns in patients who had the disease three years or less that were not present in controls or in patients who had the disease for more than three years. Short duration patients had increased amounts of many different types of immune molecules called cytokines. The association was unusually strong with a cytokine called interferon gamma that has been linked to the fatigue that follows many viral infections, including Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of infectious mononucleosis). Cytokine levels were not explained by symptom severity.”

The lead researcher Mady Hornig is quoted as saying “Our results should accelerate the process of establishing the diagnosis after individuals first fall ill as well as discovery of new treatment strategies focusing on these early blood markers.”

Articles on this cytokine study appeared immediately in the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times, written by Amy Marcus and by David Tuller

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