The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) collaborated with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to discover around 3,000 proteins in the spinal fluids of people who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease.
“We discovered that both diseases – chronic fatigue syndrome and post-treatment neurological Lyme disease – are central nervous system disorders,” said Steven Schutzer, professor of medicine at UMDNJ. “They have their own characteristic set of spinal fluid proteins that lets us distinguish one from the other.”
The two diseases were thought to be similar, and many people did not believe chronic fatigue syndrome had a real biological or physical basis, Schutzer said.
“[The discovery] provides extremely convincing evidence, in my view, that these pathologies are real and distinguishable,” said Richard Smith, director of the Proteomics Research Program at PNNL.
Smith said this recent discovery is especially important for chronic fatigue syndrome patients.
“For a significant amount of patients, this will be validation that this isn’t all in their imaginations,” he said.
Smith believes the breakthrough in this study should be credited, at least in part, to the newly available technology.
“There are a couple of challenges with spinal fluid that limit what has been done previously,” he said. “One is just the small size of the samples that are typically available. Another is the ability to make broad measurements that detect and quantify many different proteins.”
The technology used in this study was based on mass spectrometry and high-resolution liquid chromatography separations, Smith said.
“We used state of the art instruments called mass spectrometers … to identify and quantify the proteins in the certain given sample,” said Tao Liu, PNNL senior research scientist.
Applying extensive separations reduced the complexity of the spinal fluid sample and allowed for the identification of more proteins in the sample, Liu said.
“In the end we did arrive at a total of roughly 2,500 proteins … which is really the most comprehensive analysis report to date on chronic fatigue syndrome … spinal fluid,” he said.
With the publication of this study, the medical world has a list of proteins to start making hypotheses as to the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, Smith said. This study gives them the building blocks and tools to do it.
“Once you begin to look at the proteins and begin to understand which proteins are involved … you focus your attention on what you may actually be able to do in prevention to alter the outcome,” he said.
Almost all drugs are targeted at proteins, Smith said. Once a person discovers a protein that is involved in crucial biological pathways, there is potential in at least targeting that protein in drug development.
Smith said this study shows that the new technology used enables careful and in-depth study of proteins in spinal fluid for more diseases than just chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease.
“There appear to be two distinct disease states when we look at the molecular level, and there probably are many types of cancers and many different disease states that we lump together because we don’t understand the differences,” he said.
The recent research development points a way to show how a lot of diseases and disease states will be studied in the future, Smith said.
“I think these kinds of developments are going to lead to real revolutions in medical practice,” he said. “They will probably reveal many disease states that we don’t know about or distinguish at the present time and that’s vital to addressing them.”