The Scientists

There is no question in my mind that this is a physical disorder. The fact that we haven‘t been smart enough or invested enough in it to sort that, doesn’t mean that this is anything else.” Dr. W. Ian Lipkin

Dr. W. Ian Lipkin

Dr Ian Lipkin, Microbe Discovery Project for ME/CFS
Photo courtesy of the Columbia University Center for Infection and Immunity

Discover magazine called Dr. Lipkin “the world’s most celebrated virus hunter”, and with good reason: while most scientists are lucky to discover a single virus in their academic lifetime, Dr. Lipkin’s team has discovered over 500 – more than anyone else – in part because of the fast-throughput techniques. Recently, going even further with a new test called the VirCapSeq-VERT that can detect all known human viruses – that’s 1.7 million viruses. These have been developed at his 60-strong Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University.

Speed is important to Dr. Lipkin because of his role in the World Health Organisation’s programme to detect pandemics as they arise. In 2003 he sequenced part of the SARS virus from a sample of lung tissue, developed a sensitive test for the virus and was recruited by the Chinese government to help contain the outbreak. He is even known to filmgoers as the scientific consultant for the 2012 movie Contagion.

Although Dr. Lipkin had conducted a study excluding Bornavirus as a possible cause for ME/CFS in 1999, he became widely known to the ME/CFS world in 2012 when the US National Institutes of Health asked him to conduct a definitive study of the retrovirus XMRV as a possible cause of the disease.

Working in collaboration with well-known specialist ME/CFS clinicians – Drs. Klimas, Levine, Bateman, Peterson, Montoya, Komaroff – Dr. Lipkin and his team of experts ruled out XMRV. However, he stressed that his earlier Bornavirus study had found clear signs of immune problems, that ME/CFS was clearly a physical, not psychosomatic condition, and that he was committed to finding out what was causing the disease.

He went on to conduct the world’s largest ever biomedical study of ME/CFS, looking for other viruses and bacteria in the blood plasma and spinal fluid of patients and controls. Although no pathogens have yet been associated with our disease, there was again clear evidence of immune dysregulation.

Dr. Lipkin’s international reputation is stellar. He is the Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity; John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health; Professor of Neurology and Pathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University; Director of the US’s Northeast Biodefense Center; and Director of the Center of Excellence for Translational Research. He has been awarded the prestigious Mendel Medal to honour his ground-breaking work in the development of genetic methods for microbial surveillance and discovery.

Read more about Dr Lipkin

Dr. Mady Hornig

Dr Mady Hornig, Microbe Discovery Project, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue syndrome research
Photo courtesy of the Columbia University Center for Infection and Immunity

Dr. Hornig is the Director of Translational Research at the Center for Infection and Immunity, and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. She is the Principal Investigator of the Chronic Fatigue Initiative Pathogen Discovery and Pathogenesis Program and will be the Principal Investigator of the microbiome study.

She is internationally known for her research on the role of microbes, pollutants and immunity in the development of diseases affecting the nervous system and the brain, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infection (PANDAS), mood disorders, autism, schizophrenia and ME/CFS.

Dr. Hornig led the work that ruled out a role for the measles virus in children with autism and gut problems. However, she went on to discover serious biochemical problems in the gut in those same children, as well as marked changes in their microbiome.

Dr. Hornig became widely known to ME/CFS patients following presentations in 2013 on the ME/CFS blood plasma pathogen project at a conference on ME/CFS at Nova Southeastern University in the US and the Invest in ME conference in the UK. Dr Hornig was the primary investigator in a landmark study in ME/CFS showing interesting immune signatures that are upregulated in the first 3 years of illness and down-regulated in longer duration of illness – suggestive of an immune exhaustion.

Read more about Dr Hornig