To start with, what do we mean when we say ME/CFS is a molecular disease, and why is that helpful for research? Molecular biology involves DNA, RNA, metabolites, proteins, cytokines – and there is evidence that so many of these are involved in ME/CFS. Molecular biology presents new opportunities to study ME/CFS: this is the golden era of molecular technologies, like genomics and other ‘omics’ (transcriptomics, metabolomics, proteomics) that allow us to measure the full set of these molecules produced by the body, cheaply and effectively. These studies can help us to understand how the disease works – for example, which viruses may trigger it or whether genetics may increase your risk – and to identify molecular biomarkers that are clearly different in patients compared to healthy people, which may be useful in diagnosing ME/CFS. Finally, molecular biology will hopefully lead to new molecular treatments: knowing which molecules are out of balance could point to ways to treat ME/CFS.
A great example of this is the recent metabolomics study published by Dr. Bob Naviaux (http://www.pnas.org/content/113/37/E5472.long), in which he found several metabolites whose levels are different in ME/CFS patients. This metabolic ‘signature’ could be useful as a biomarker, and could help to understand the energy deficiency issues in the disease. OMF is supporting a metabolomics validation study to confirm and extend Dr. Naviaux’s findings, and a collaboration with Dr. Ron Davis’ group to use genome sequencing to understand how genetics may be influencing metabolism in ME/CFS. Stay tuned for more!