Medical and health technology breakthroughs are happening more rapidly than in previous decades. While discovering something profound in individual diseases, especially chronic diseases, is great, technology has allowed us to be able to better understand the intricate details that create and fuel diseases. Advancements in the world of medical research and technology development have given us the ability to make huge difference in our society, which has had declining health for the last 30 years.
Here are a few examples of the major strides in medical technology:
- In May of this year, Dr. Mark Davis developed an advanced and complex immune monitoring machine that has already determined that exposure to the herpes virus (and some other viruses) significantly alter the immune system.
- Just last week, scientists discovered a lymphatic network in the brain that will help us better understand neuro-immune diseases.
- And this week, the prestigious journal, Science, published a new study that has uncovered new ways of understanding how pathogens play a role in illness.
Technology is always moving. Whether it’s a good or bad thing depends on what the advancements are used for. Each of the above examples have the potential to shed a bright light on many complicated chronic diseases like fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
The most significant of those examples is looking at how pathogens play a role in chronic illnesses. Being able to do that is a game-changer for those of us in the fibro and ME/CFS community.
I need to point out and make it perfectly clear that the “viral theory” ONLY applies to CFS/ME, and not fibromyalgia. “True fibromyalgia”, as defined in my Treating and Beating Fibromyalgia book, isn’t caused by a virus. I’ll repeat that for certain unnamed doctors in Tuscaloosa AL and in sunny north Florida, viruses have little if anything to do with fibromyalgia. They do have EVERYTHING to do with CFS/ME.
A Harvard researcher named Steven Elledge is an eminent scientist that has been a leader in breaking through some of the barriers we have had in properly identifying, diagnosing, and treating complicated illnesses. Dr. Elledge has been a pioneer for the technique that completely determines blood antibodies, and the strength of their response. For the record, in response to a pathogen or virus, antibodies are made by the B-cells. These antibodies are made on a continual basis even years after the infection has cleared. While this may seem frightening, this is actually a good thing. Antibodies carry in them a host of information, a library of infections and events.
Until now, the search and capture of antibodies has been difficult.
Before Dr. Elledge’s research, doctors and scientists had to look for pathogenic antibodies one at a time, a painstakingly arduous process. Now and in the very near future, we’ll be able to expose antibodies to 216 viruses that are specific to the human body… in one simple, single blood sample. Best of all, the test is only about $25.
Dr. Ian Lipkin referred to this quantum leap in breakthrough medicine “a technological tour de force… a powerful new research tool.”
What is involved in the study? A great deal, actually, and too complicated to explain here. For more information, take a look at the study, Comprehensive serological profiling of human populations using a synthetic human virome.
I will note that the study involves screening for antibody reactions to over 1000 strains of about 206 viruses that are found primarily in humans. It looks at the genomes (genetic sequencing) of these pathogens that are present in the human body. They studied 500 people all over the world. The average person, they noted, was exposed to at least 10 viruses, and some even as many as 25.
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts and my book, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is one of the leading infections that I come across in my fibromyalgia and ME/CFS patients, so it doesn’t surprise me that EBV was the leading infection on the list of viruses in this study. About 90% of the people studied were exposed to EBV.
The other common viruses that were found included:
- Herpes viruses
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Additionally, it was noted that the older the patient, the more viruses they were exposed to, which is not surprising.
I will note here that the test certainly is not perfect. It doesn’t detect the low-level antibodies and may not work as well in patients who have lower immune systems (such as those with ME/CFS). While antibodies do continue to produce for many years after the infection, responses decline over time, so that may make it more difficult to detect them on the blood test. This also makes it difficult to determine early infections. Another limitation is that the test only found evidence of chickenpox (varicella) in about 25% to 30% of people who had it. It was, however, completely accurate for those with hepatitis C and HIV.
Dr. Elledge is confident, however, that test improvements will eventually be able to capture those antibodies and reduce the limitations.
Dr. Elledge is also working on ways to identify autoimmune antibodies, as well as those related to bacteria and fungi. This is most certainly an exciting discovery for those with chronic diseases. Autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis and cancers were actually the first issues that were noted to be connected with this type of technology. A professor of virology at the University of Nottingham believes this new test and the way they perform it will be valuable for all diseases that have an unknown origin or cause.
While there are theories and speculations about what causes fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, this test could prove much more definitive. Identifying the genetic makeup of viruses will at the very least give doctors a clue as to what has caused the condition.
Another invaluable potential of this new technology is that it will help differentiate between diseases with similar symptoms. For example, primary biliary cirrhosis (a liver disease) produces many of the same symptoms as ME/CFS including extreme fatigue, lower immunity, and autonomic dysfunction. These two conditions are studied together to look for primary differences and try to determine what caused them. This test will help researchers by determining which viruses are responsible for the conditions.
Dr. Elledge is already studying ME/CFS because the theory is widely accepted that it is a virus that causes the condition. The study had a great deal of ME/CFS patients included, which is another reason Dr. Elledge began looking more closely at this complicated disorder. Specifically, he is looking at blood samples and trying to identify specific antibodies that may be responsible for the condition. In fact, CFS is the prime candidate for developing advancements in this technology.
Dr. Elledge reported,
“We have developed a technology that reveals all the viruses targeted by the antibodies in a blood sample. We plan to use this technology to examine the blood from people with and without CFS in order to find viruses that are associated with CFS. We hope this study will identify a pathogen as a likely causative agent of the disease in order to focus future study. We also have a related technology that reveals all the targets of autoantibodies in a blood sample. We also plan to apply this technology to the sample blood samples to look for evidence of immune dysfunction in people with CFS.”
The idea is that the new technology will be able to determine which infection was responsible, which could be a great step in finding preventive treatment measures for people who present with those infections.
I will note here that the test is not yet ready for general use. While the study has had an enormous impact in the medical and scientific communities, which helps not only development but publicity, it’s still a few miles away from being ready for commercial use.
ME/CFS doctors and researchers around the world are lining up to get involved with this cutting-edge technology. Combining this new test with the advancements that have already been made will prove ultimately groundbreaking when it comes to understanding the intricate details of this complex and debilitating condition.
As usual, we still have a long road ahead of us; however, this is a long stride in the right direction. I have been treating fibromyalgia and ME/CFS for over two decades, and I have found that there is nothing more frustrating to my patients than not understanding why this is happening to them. It’s disheartening to see them come into my office with tears in their eyes after spending years, sometimes decades, continually getting worse. Their conventional doctors feed them more and more medications and refuse to look any deeper into the cause of the symptoms. That is unacceptable.
So, if there is a simple and cheap blood test that will identify the cause of the symptoms, which will not only further the research into this condition but give my patients peace of mind, you can count me in as one of the doctors that will diligently follow the progress of this advancement.
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