Patrick McGowan’s  epigenetic research started out as a small 24 person pilot project funded by the SolveCFS Initiative but it’s not small any more. With the help of a $500,000 grant from the Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust, Patrick McGowan (and Dr. Lucinda Bateman) are now embarking  on a 300 person study.


McGowan got a nice chunk of change to expand his study from 24 to 300…

Epigenetics studies changes how our genes  express themselves over time in. Think of your genetic makeup as a blank slate when you were born. Look forward twenty or thirty years, though, and you’ll see portions of that slate have been over-written: some genes that weren’t turned on back then are now turned on. Others that were going full bore have been silenced.  That’s epigenetics – a field some researchers believe may, in the end, be ultimately more important with regard to chronic  diseases than our original genetic makeup.

Consider the possibility that key genes that were serving to keep you strong and healthy got turned off or possibly  genes that were guaranteed to make you sick got turned on just before you became ill. Maybe it wasn’t that bug, that flu or whatever  you thought it was that got you ill. Maybe the problem was that your gene expression changed. If that’s true then good luck trying to fix the problem without getting at those epigenetic changes. Everything you do will be like a bandaid put over a genetic  sore.

McGowan’s SolveCFS Initiative pilot study found epigenetic changes in 800 genes involved in metabolic  regulation (energy production), kinase activities (metabolic  and much more), the immune response and more in people with ME/CFS.  His finding appeared to be on track with what we know: they suggested ME/CFS patients immune systems were skewed to a Th2 immune response and they highlighted inflammatory processes.  One  particularly interesting epigenetically altered gene was associated with EBV infection of B-cells. Another effected a major inflammatory transcription factor called NF-kB which turns on genes involved in inflammation.

The Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust obviously felt McGowan was on to something because they awarded him one of ten  or so grants they are giving out  in their new translational research effort that opened in October.  This effort emphasized these factors:

  • Understanding underlying disease processes and how they disrupt normal human biology,
  • Identification of biological markers of disease activity and progression
  • Development and testing of diagnostic or prognostic tests based on those markers

It’s news when a longstanding medical trust fund considers ME/CFS a good investment

McGowan’s research could affect all three: understanding ME/CFS, finding  biomarkers and developing diagnostic tests.

This grant shows once again that pilot studies work, and that more and more funders are considering ME/CFS a  subject  they want to invest in. The  Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust is not a flash in the pan; it’s  an established non-profit that’s given out almost $200 million in grants over the past thirty years.  It’s good news when a long-established funder believes chronic fatigue syndrome is a good investment. The competition in this era of reduced NIH budgets was probably fierce. Kudo’s to whoever took  advantage of this funding opportunity.

A BIG thanks to the 320 people who helped make Health Rising's fundraising drive a success!

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