National Institutes of Health Award will Fund Study of the Disease in Men
FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla.- We’ve all heard the phrase “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” One team of researchers at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine is taking a further look into the differences between the two genders by researching male and female patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Mary Ann Fletcher, Ph.D., Schemel Professor for Neuro-Immune Medicine at NSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, and her research team recently were awarded a $1.95 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study complex biomarkers of CFS/ME in men.
Fletcher and her team will combine the findings from this 100 percent federally funded four-year study with data the team previously compiled from its other sponsored programs in Gulf War illness (GWI), a related neuro-immune disorder. Grants for these four studies total nearly $10 million, and have been funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and NIH.
“Our goal is to pin down precisely what are the differences between men and women facing these diseases and to develop more effective and specific treatment plans using existing drugs that are currently being used to treat other related conditions and symptoms,” said Fletcher.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ME/CFS is a “debilitating complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Symptoms affect several body systems and may include weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, and insomnia, which can result in reduced participation in daily activities.”
ME/CFS occurs most often in people who are in their 40s and 50s, but can happen at any age, according to the CDC. The disease affects more than 1 million Americans and is four times more likely to occur in women than in men. Many experts believe a significant number of cases go undiagnosed and the actual number of Americans with the disease is much higher.
Since flare-ups of the disease often occur during physical activity, the new grant will involve a cross sectional study that investigates biological indicators in patients before, during, and after an exercise protocol. These indicators, also known as biomarkers, will allow the Institute’s researchers to target the root causes of the disease using computational biology models.
The Institute’s research consortium consists of Fletcher; Nancy Klimas, M.D., director of the Institute, chair of the Department of Clinical Immunology, and professor of medicine, NSU College of Osteopathic Medicine; Mariana Morris, Ph.D., professor and director of the Institute’s pre-clinical research laboratory; Gordon Broderick, Ph.D., director of the Institute’s Clinical Systems Biology Group and professor at the NSU Center for Psychological Studies and NSU College of Pharmacy; Travis Craddock, Ph.D., associate director of the Institute’s Clinical Systems Biology Group and assistant professor at the NSU Center for Psychological Studies and NSU Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences. The team is affiliated with the research service of the Bruce W. Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Miami VA Healthcare System. Klimas is also affiliated with the VA’s medical service.
Located at NSU’s campus in Davie, the Institute is focused on neuro-inflammatory and neuro-degenerative disorders such as ME/CFS, GWI, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis using the newest proteomic, genomic, and computational techniques.
Fletcher is the Institute’s first Schemel Professor for Neuro-Immune Medicine. The Schemel Professorship was established through a $2 million endowment from the Schemel Family Foundation in 2013. In this role, Fletcher directs the Institute’s research laboratory and conducts proteomic and genomic research.
Fletcher joined NSU from the University of Miami, where she spent the majority of her 40-year employment as director of the E.M. Papper Laboratory of Clinical Immunology, which recently relocated to NSU.
Fletcher earned her Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, her Master of Science in Immunology and Virology from University of Texas Medical School in Dallas, and her Doctor of Philosophy in Immunochemistry from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She completed her postdoctoral research at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Fletcher’s research is published in more than 260 peer reviewed articles and scientific journals. She holds two U.S. Patents for developing diagnostic tests related to infectious mononucleosis and has presented her work at many national and international scientific conferences.
Fletcher, a licensed clinical laboratory director in Florida and New York, is certified as a high complexity laboratory director by the American Board of Bio-analysis. She is a frequent reviewer of manuscripts for scientific journals and is a member of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee that advises the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Men between the ages of 18 and 75 who are interested in enrolling in the study can call (305) 275-5450.