Million (And A Half) Dollar Baby
The first fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) tissue donor program received its first grant in 2006. By the end of that year, neuro-immunologist Dianne Lorton, Ph.D., had brought 50 fibromyalgia patients into the study. The Sun Health Research Institute (SHRI) is the home for this project, and is a not for profit research foundation located in Sun City, Arizona.
Now, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have kicked in an additional $1.4 million grant so that Lorton can fulfill her dream of bringing in another 350-500 fibromyalgia sufferers plus a matched number of control subjects in good health within the next 5 years. As Lorton put it, “The NIH grant goes a long way toward securing the future of the FMS clinical and tissue bank program. But AFSA [American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association], with its foresight to see how beneficial such a program could be in moving our understanding of fibromyalgia forward and developing new treatments, was the first to supply financial support.”
The focus of the project is to collect brain, spinal cord, and other tissues and fluids from fibromyalgia donors whose symptoms will be assessed and recorded from year to year. Lorton states that SHRI has earned international kudos for their expertise in preserving post-mortem tissue. The tissues are taken within a short time, perhaps a few hours, after the donor’s passing. In this manner, the tissue’s cells appear almost the same as they did during the donor’s lifetime. Because of the high quality of the Institute’s tissue samples, researchers have many more open avenues of research than would be possible with samples from other banks.
Lorton feels that this program will do for fibromyalgia what it did for Alzheimer’s disease and will provide a brand new image of fibromyalgia and how it must be researched. The neuro-immunologist comments that most of the research done on Alzheimer’s disease was dependent upon human studies for discoveries in understanding pathology, finding causes for the illness and for learning how to diagnose the disease. Just as in today’s research for FMS, there were no animal studies that might give an accurate reflection of how Alzheimer’s worked inside the body nor was there a precise way to research its causes.
The scientist explains that it was post-mortem tissue studies that moved the track of Alzheimer’s study to where it is now. Today’s researcher has proper animal models, understands the disease process, and is getting close to being able to predict in advance who is going to get Alzheimer’s. The current track of research has moved on to better therapeutic approaches for the disease. Lorton says none of this would have been possible without post-mortem tissue.
Lorton concludes that the FMS tissue program will become the scientists’ greatest resource for learning how the disease works and how it might be better treated. She believes that a thorough understanding of causes, better diagnostic testing, the development of animal models, as well as finding quality treatments will only be possible once central nervous system tissue is made available to those researchers who wish to study FMS. The researcher comments that the availability of such a resource will make fibromyalgia a more attractive research avenue for talented scientists looking for the right project.