The following article profiles the current medical treatment research work Dr. Nancy Klimas, a globally renowned leader in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFW/ME) medical research.
Dr. Klimas is one of a number of CDMRP-funded Gulf War Illness (GWI) treatment researchers working to make a difference in the health and lives of veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness. The project described below is one of two CDMRP-funded "consortia" that are bringing together numerous researchers from different fields and institutions in coordinated efforts aimed at helping veterans suffering from GWI.
The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) remains the only treatment-focused federal medical research effort in the more than two decades since the 1991 Gulf War.
Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
NSU putting mystery diseases under microscope
A South Florida university has opened what's being billed as a one-of-a-kind neuroscience institute dedicated to cracking some of the medical world's most mysterious diseases.
Nova Southeastern University officials say their new Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine in Davie is the first in the country to not only treat patients with such conditions as chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War illness, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis — but also to research the ailments' causes and possible treatments, all under one roof.
"The concept is to act as a think tank, with patients and scientists in one place," said institute director Dr. Nancy Klimas, a leading clinician in neuro-immune disorders. "It sounds boring, but boy, is it liberating."
Though the institute began in concept last year, it opened the doors on a new $5 million building in February and welcomed its first patients to the facility this week. Together with a sister facility Klimas oversees in Kendall, the center expects to accommodate 1,300 patients.
For now, it is seeing only patients with chronic fatigue and Gulf War symptoms, disorders that have eluded explanation and treatment for decades. But Klimas said she expects to expand into the study and treatment of Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis in the next year once funds become available.
"This is something we have hoped for and waited for for years," said Pat Sonnett, a Miami retiree who has suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome since 1986. "This is a dream come true for us."
Typically, Klimas said, scientists studying the same disorders toil away in their own labs in different parts of the world, working together infrequently, if ever. Because of its innately collaborative setup — putting research labs, a patient clinic, faculty offices and conference facilities all in one building — the Nova institute is pioneering a novel approach to patient care and research, becoming the first to study neuro-immune disorders with the newest genome techniques, she said.
Patients ailing from Gulf War illness, for example, exercise on the facility's stationary bikes, then have their blood drawn and their genes studied under the lab's microscopes. Researchers next study which genes turn on and off and in which order, and in a nearby office, a computational biologist maps out a computerized model of the genetic dance, both as it occurs in humans and in animals.
Klimas' team — a broad cadre of senior scientists in the fields of genomics, virology, immunology, cellular biology, computational biology, nutrition, and therapeutic modeling — then pore over the data to understand what's going on inside the body.
A better understanding of the illnesses leads to a stronger hope for developing new medicines to treat them, which is the institute's "primary focus," said Klimas, who has advised U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on chronic fatigue syndrome. "We're right now at the point of testing drugs on people and in mice, which is very exciting."
Klimas retired after 28 years as the University of Miami's director of clinical immunology to start up NSU's new institute, intrigued by the idea of tackling complex, confounding illnesses in new, comprehensive ways.
She and her team are conducting clinical trials for the drug Ampligen, which if found effective and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, would be the first medication to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, a debilitating immune disorder that affects more than a million Americans.
The scientists are also poised to test a new drug on Gulf War illness patients, said Klimas, who is collaborating with researchers at Boston University and other facilities around the country to solve the mystery around a disorder afflicting up to 210,000 of the 700,000 veterans who fought in Iraq in the early 1990s.
"It could certainly be a game-changer to understand what's happening with these folks," said Kimberly Sullivan, research assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University's School of Public Health. "These folks have been waiting a long time with just the standard types of treatments for their illness."
NSU's Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine is partnering with the Miami VA Medical Center on the Gulf War illness research, a project that got a boost recently from a $4 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
"There have been millions of dollars spent on studying Gulf War illness, and we've gotten nowhere in 20 years," said Jeffrey Christnagel, 40, a Gulf War veteran from North Miami Beach who Klimas thinks contracted the illness in 1990 while wearing contaminated equipment during training drills in England. "I believe she's got the system set up right. She's making moves right now. She's the next pioneer."
Chronic fatigue patients like Dan Moricoli, 69, of Wellington also hold out new hope, buoyed by a major, well-funded initiative that is getting serious about tackling a disorder that for too long had been dismissed by much of the medical community.
"Exciting development doesn't even begin to describe it. You have to understand, this disease has been poorly understood and misdiagnosed for years, so this is a real breakthrough," said Moricoli, a retired ad executive who has launched two websites devoted to sharing resources and making social media connections for chronic fatigue sufferers. "For the 28 million people around the world with chronic fatigue, this is a big, big deal."
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