DETROIT — A national foundation has sought out a Wayne State University researcher in an effort to discover whether overall genome instability rather than a specific molecular mechanism may cause chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS).

Henry Heng, associate professor at the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics and the department of pathology at WSU’s School of Medicine, recently received a $133,000 grant from the National CFIDS Foundation in collaboration with the Nancy Taylor Foundation for Chronic Diseases.

Heng is to assess disease damage in patients with CFIDS, which also is known as chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME). He will use an advanced type of genomic testing to look for chromosomal aberrations or genomic instability in CFS/ ME patients.

Heng believes scientists who have looked to single genes and mutations as the cause of diseases with complex sets of symptoms need to broaden their search to genomes.

That belief is based on his work of 10 years on cancer, which has demonstrated that cancer progresses primarily through random chromosomal changes. Though that concept seemed hard for some to accept five to seven years ago, Heng said, the scientific community has started to come around.

In 2007 producers at the Discovery Channel sought to establish the existence of Gulf War syndrome and asked Heng to test samples of soldiers’ blood; those samples were found to contain damaged chromosomes. An official at the National CFIDS Foundation saw the program and agreed.

Reasoning that CFIDS, like cancer, is a complex disease with a wide range of symptoms and varying degrees of severity, the official asked Heng to investigate it.

Heng’s project, “Linking Genomic Instability to Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome,” will use a scientific technique called spectral karyotyping, or SKY analysis, to evaluate whether the process may reveal instability similar to Gulf War syndrome in CFIDS/ME. Essentially that process would demonstrate whether the latter has a common physical basis.

His team will culture patients’ blood and perform SKY analysis, which paints each chromosome with a unique color to identify random genome aberrations that might be linked to symptoms.

“For a long time people have studied gene mutation-based genetic diseases, believing if you found the right mutation, you could cure the disease,” Heng said. “But this is misleading thinking, because most common complex diseases are not caused by one or two genes, but a whole package of genome alterations. However, we have discovered that chromosomal change has a more profound effect in many diseases. Our group has shown that random chromosomal changes matter. We really need to know the problem we face rather than engage in wishful thinking.”

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Comments (6)
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  2. Lori Chapo Kroger says:

    CFS Solutions of West Michigan wishes to congratulate Dr. Heng on being the recipient of a $133,000 grant for ME/CFS research. As a patient and president of CFS Solutions of West MI, a non profit organizations dedicated to improving quality of life for ME/CFS patients, I see first hand the suffering this debilitating disease causes It is thrilling to know that genomic research for ME/CFS is being explored in our home state. Hopefully, his finding will lead to treatment and a cure. Does he need CFIDS patients for his research?

  3. Janet Wildeboer says:

    My name is Janet Wildeboer. and I am member of The National CFIDS Foundation, Inc.. I have ME/CFIDS and live in Grand Rapids, if Dr, Heng needs a patients for the rsearch I would love to help.
    Thank You,
    Janet Wildeboer

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