Hacking the immune system

The hunt for chronic fatigue biomarkers

Chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis) is an illness with no clear-cut diagnostic criteria or cause. There are an estimated 17 million sufferers worldwide (source: NIH). The Stanford Initiative on Infection-Associated Chronic Diseases is coordinating a multidisciplinary team of experts to look for biomarkers and causes of ME/CFS and other unexplained chronic illnesses. The study, led by professor of infectious diseases José Montoya, MD, is currently the largest project at Stanford’s Human Immune Monitoring Center


600 study subjects

Researchers have assembled a large biological sample and data repository for 200 chronic fatigue patients and 400 age- and sex-matched healthy subjects. (Recruitment is closed.)

Immune system visualization

High-speed cell analyzers look for more than 40 molecular parameters per blood cell, enabling the creation of immune system maps that flag dysfunctional processes.

Microbe search

New rapid-gene-sequencing instruments are being used to search blood and GI tract samples for more than 20 viruses, parasites, fungi and bacteria.

Inflammation molecule tracking

Called cytokines, these molecules that regulate infection and fight cancer were tracked on a daily basis in order to find relationships between fatigue levels and immune system dysfunction.

Genetic profiling

47,000 gene elements are cataloged for each sample, then compared to a public database of genetic disease markers.

Brain scans

Imaging and electrical-activity instruments are looking for brain inflammation and abnormalities in patients.

Kris Newby is the communications manager for Spectrum, the Stanford Center for Clinical and Translational Research and Education. Email her at krisn@stanford.edu.

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