The NIH Response to the Petition/Package

Since not everyone receives emails from change.org, which is how the updates regarding the petition are delivered, and it’s the beginning of the year, I wanted to make the NIH response available here so everyone had a chance to see it. Get everyone up to date and on the same page. I can’t thank all of you enough for helping make this happen. I’ll post my and some advocates responses to the letter in the next post. So stay tuned.

The response from the NIH was interesting for a few reasons. Just for clarity’s sake, I’ll say it was not an official response–it was a personal letter emailed strictly to Matt. While they never mention the package and only briefly acknowledge the existence of the petition, I know that Collins receieved the whole kit and kaboodle. How? Because a receipt was sent to my email that the package was delivered and signed for by none other than the big MAN himself! Santa Clause! Or Santa Collins…you know what I mean.

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So, now we don’t have to wonder. Anyway, I’ll begin by posting the letter Matt wrote (rubber-banded to mine) that we included inside the box. Following it is the response from the NIH.

Matt’s Letter:

Dear Mr. Collins,

My name is Matt Tyler. Until just a few years ago, I had never heard of anything called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. And that’s kind of what’s so crazy about the disease. It’s hidden from the majority of us. It wasn’t until I ran into an acquaintance from my younger years, someone who had sort of disappeared from my circle of friends when I was in my mid-twenties. I just assumed she had relocated, had become consumed with beginning a family or a career. You know, normal late-twenties life stuff. Turns out she was dealing with ME/CFS. She had faded into the background not because she had other things in the background to do, but because she was forced to recoil into a bed by a mysterious disease that most of us had never heard of.

I’ve grown very close to her recently and in turn have grown very close to the life that suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis brings with it.  She’s not even on the most severe end of the spectrum, but it still baffles me how she’s able to get up every day (most days, some days just have to involve being in bed all day) and deal with the pain and exhaustion that she feels just because she’s awake. Because she made a sandwich and then walked to the couch.  Because she needed to bathe. And she never complains or whines about her circumstance. She has every right to, but instead she fights however she can. She does things like create the included petition. She exerts the very limited supply of energy she has to give a voice and some hope to the millions of people suffering with this debilitating disease. The millions of people who have been robbed of years of their lives.

You once lived a life where you searched for hidden genes responsible for these types of things. I remember reading once that you would put a sticker on your motorcycle helmet every time you discovered a gene responsible for a disease. I’m sure it was a proud moment applying the sticker representing Cystic Fibrosis. I know that’s not the life you live anymore. Now you get to direct and inspire young versions of yourself. Young scientists trying to make a change in the world. That’s why we need your help. Your influence. Your voice.

The reason for this petition is simple: Allocate more funds toward the research of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. That’s what we are asking. That’s what the people behind the more than 50,000 signatures are requesting. But I’m sure you understand more so than most of us that by doing that, you are immediately impacting all those millions of people who have been pushed into shadows. If this increased funding happens, not only will the impact happen long term with better diagnostic tools and possible treatments, but you’ll give the people suffering an injection of hope. Hope that they can return to their jobs. Hope that the life they once had and enjoyed is not forever lost. Someone with as much prominence in the scientific world as you making a decision to increase research funding and speaking out about ME/CFS spreads the word about the disease. It might inspire some grad student somewhere to decide this is going to be something they want to attempt to tackle. Some blossoming scientist might decide they want to put a dent in or even end this terrible disease.

I understand that giving more funds to ME/CFS research likely means another diseases’ funding might be reduced. I don’t envy you having to make those decisions. But I can say this. I would imagine in the world where your career exists, the phrase “return on investment” is not foreign. I run a small family business and it’s something I have to consider almost daily. I’m sure it’s a much more difficult metric to calculate in the domain where you must apply it. But I’ll leave you with this: any additional money put towards ME/CFS research, especially if some sort of formal announcement or press release is attached, will yield an exponentially higher return on investment than most other diseases. Because outside of simply robbing people of their careers, health and happiness, ME/CFS robs people of hope. And a life without hope is no life at all.

You have the chance to not only bring about scientific change to help millions of people in need, but the chance to reinvigorate them with hope.

Thank you for your time,

Matt Tyler

P.S.  If you do decide to do what is being asked for in the petition, I will design, make and hand deliver a sticker representing ME/CFS for your motorcycle helmet in hopes that in the very near future you’ll be able to apply it.

***The NIH Response***

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Tell your friend Mary and the supporters of this petition and the me/cfs community to go find the fattest worms they can find, take a seat on a nearby stomp, and eat them at a slow, slow, pace. OK? Thank you and we’ll check back in with you in roughly 10 years from now, mkay? Happy Holidays gbyyyyyyyye!

KIDDING. I had to. OK, Here is their actual response.

Dear Mr. Tyler:

Thank you for your letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis S. Collins concerning myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).  We appreciate your kind words about his work.  Dr. Collins requested that I respond to you on his behalf.

I am sorry to learn that a friend of yours has ME/CFS.  Your description of her experiences underscores the devastating effects of this disease.  With your letter, you included a petition that asked the NIH to increase funding for ME/CFS research to $100 million.

We at the NIH understand the necessity of improving diagnostics and finding effective therapies for ME/CFS as quickly as possible.  We agree that there is a tremendous need for quality research in ME/CFS.  It may be helpful for you to know that the NIH system is open for any researchers to submit their best ideas for funding excellent science in ME/CFS.  The NIH grant system primarily funds work performed in individual laboratories or clinics by teams of scientists working at academic, medical, and other biomedical research institutions, including industry.  Individual investigators interested in pursuing ME/CFS research can submit detailed proposals through their institutions to answer a broad range of research questions.  Proposals can be submitted three times per year.  Proposed projects undergo a rigorous peer review process at the NIH and are then considered for funding.  Investigators receive critiques of their proposals and have the option to revise them and resubmit.

The Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group recognizes the acute need to cultivate more research and investigators to work on ME/CFS.  In pursuit of this goal, NIH plans to bring scientists together with patients and ME/CFS advocacy groups in April 2019 to discuss the opportunities in ME/CFS research.  We also plan a meeting intended to engage early-stage career scientists in ME/CFS.  More information about these meetings is available at https://www.nih.gov/mecfs/events

In addition, the NIH is conducting a study on ME/CFS at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  This study, led by renowned neuroimmunologist Dr. Avindra Nath, is exploring the clinical and biological characteristics of ME/CFS following a probable infection to improve understanding of the disease’s cause and progression.  Recruitment of healthy volunteers and people with ME/CFS is underway.  The study is currently recruiting patients who have had ME/CFS for 5 years or fewer.  You can read about the study at this website:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/index.html  The following site provides a contact email address and the telephone number for the NIH’s Office of Patient Recruitment:  https://mecfs.ctss.nih.gov/contact.html

Please be aware that the NIH generally does not stipulate the amount of funds for specific diseases.  There have been times when Congress provided funds to the NIH for specific purposes, but those instances have been rare—HIV, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more recently, the crisis resulting from opioid overuse disorder.  In special cases there are NIH-driven exceptions, for example, when one or more NIH Institutes set aside funds by issuing a Request for Applications (RFA).  The RFAs for the ME/CFS Collaborative Research Centers (CRCs) and Data Management and Coordinating Center (DMCC) are examples.

As a result of the RFAs, in September 2017, the NIH awarded four grants to support the creation of a ME/CFS research consortium composed of three CRCs and a DMCC.  These centers will help to build a strong foundation for expanding research on ME/CFS.  The CRCs will each conduct independent research but will also collaborate on several projects, forming a network to help advance knowledge on ME/CFS.  The data will be managed by the DMCC and will be shared among researchers within the CRCs and more broadly with the research community.  You can read about the awards at https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-announces-centers-myalgic-encephalomyelitis-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-research  We hope that the new centers and other NIH efforts will attract researchers from other areas to propose research on ME/CFS and increase the number of young investigators entering the field.

The awards are just one result of the NIH’s efforts to advance research on ME/CFS with the goals of identifying its cause and finding biomarkers to study disease progression and monitor response to treatment.  You can read about these plans in the following NIH news article from October 2015:  https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-takes-action-bolster-research-myalgic-encephalomyelitis/chronic-fatigue-syndrome  As part of these actions, the NIH has renewed the focus and efforts of the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group, which is carefully exploring the gaps in our knowledge and identifying the opportunities for research on ME/CFS.  The Working Group will continue to discuss next steps to attract more researchers to this field and expand research on this disease.  You may wish to visit the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group website at www.nih.gov/mecfs

The NIH continues to post research funding opportunities related to ME/CFS in the “Funding” section of that site.  In addition, the information at the “Resources” section of the site may be helpful.  If you would like to receive periodic updates about NIH activities related to ME/CFS via email, please go to that website and click on the link to “Join our listserv” at the bottom of the left sidebar.  The NIH hosts regular telebriefings with the ME/CFS community to provide updates on our activities and answer questions.  Announcements about upcoming telebriefings are emailed via the listserv.

In addition, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is the lead Institute for the Trans-NIH ME/CFS Working Group along with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently formed a working group of its advisory council to provide scientific guidance on how best to advance ME/CFS research at NIH.  The working group includes basic scientists, clinicians, Federal partners, advocates, and people with ME/CFS.

We hope that the steps the NIH has taken over the past 2 years and the future progress of the Centers will grow into a major scientific effort in ME/CFS research funded by grants submitted to NIH.  We look forward to working with the community to gain further insights into ME/CFS that will lead to the development of effective treatments and improve the quality of life for people coping with this disease.

Sincerely,

Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D.

Chair, Trans-NIH ME/CFS Research Working Group

*****

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“This is great! We got a response from the NIH!”                                                                        “Yeah, this is a big deal!”                                                                                                                                 “This is bullshit.”

Don’t worry, this may not be exactly what I/We might’ve hoped for, but this provides us good information straight from the horses mouth. There is a great deal of value in seeing how the NIH looks at this issue and what they consider “enough” in terms of how they’re approaching the situation around MECFS. Since some of their advice involved going to congress, this letter can help convey the exact issues we’re talking about when we say there’s a lack of urgency and an overall tone-deaf, dismissiveness when it comes to this disease. Either way, I’m very happy and grateful we received this response, and trust me when I say it will be put to good use. Stay tuned.

Health, Happiness, More to Come!

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