For decades, stakeholders have advocated for funding commensurate with the severity of ME/CFS. The government’s response has been to hold an occasional meeting, commission a report from time to time, and little if anything has changed. More words are spoken, with clinicians and researchers saying things that have been said before. But officials haven’t followed through with the necessary funding increases or with the sustained attention required to address this severely disabling disease whose economic impact wildly exceeds the paltry dollars allotted to research.
For example, NIH hosted a State of the Knowledge Workshop in April 2011. The report from that meeting bears a great deal of resemblance to the NIH’s Pathways to Prevention (P2P) Workshop report published in June 2015. Four years have passed, but the situation remains the same.
Both reports acknowledged patients’ suffering.
2011: Individuals with ME/CFS, their families, and their caregivers have gone through untold suffering and difficulties from a disease that is poorly understood and for which there is relatively little to offer in the way of specific treatments. (p.5)
2015: Unfortunately, ME/CFS is an area where the research and health care community has frustrated its constituents, by failing to appropriately assess and treat the disease and by allowing patients to be stigmatized. (p.2)
Both reports recommended research on biomarkers and epidemiology.
2011: Continued research on biomarkers for ME/CFS, including biomarkers that are mediators of the illness, has the potential to aid in diagnosis, and treatment and prevention. (p.15)
2011: There is a lack of longitudinal, natural history, early detection, pediatric-versus-adult-onset, and animal model studies. . . . In addition, few studies look at comorbid conditions, biomarkers, or genetics. (p.18)
2015: Research priorities should be shifted to include basic science and mechanistic work that will contribute to the development of tools and measures such as biomarker or therapeutics discovery. (p.8)
2015: Epidemiological studies of ME/CFS, including incidence and prevalence, who is at high risk, risk factors, geographical distribution, and the identification of potential health care disparities are critical. (p.11)
Both reports recommended a network of collaborative centers.
2011: Creating coordinated and collaborative systems for sharing research was an important topic that included creating standard operating procedures for the field, within and across labs, as well as common data elements. (p.18)
2015: Create a network of collaborative centers working across institutions and disciplines, including clinical, biological, and social sciences. These centers will be charged with determining the biomarkers associated with diagnosis and prognosis, epidemiology (e.g., health care utilization), functional status and disability, patient-centered QOL outcomes, cost-effectiveness of treatment studies, the role of comorbidities in clinical and real-life settings, and providing a complete characterization of control populations, as well as those who recover from ME/CFS. (p.15)
Both reports recommended central repositories.
2011: To capture the extensive information from such studies, a centralized interactive database, using common data elements and accessible to everyone, is sorely needed to collect, aggregate, store, and analyze results. (p.18)
2015: Biologic samples (e.g., serum and saliva, RNA, DNA, whole blood or peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and tissues) and de-identified survey data should be linked in a registry/repository to understand pathogenesis and prognosis, and facilitate biomarker discovery. (p.11)
Both reports highlighted the urgent need for consensus on case definition.
2011: Throughout the Workshop, participants identified opportunities for advancement in the current research paradigm for ME/CFS, beginning with a need to define and standardize the terminology and case definitions. (p.6)
2015: Define disease parameters. Assemble a team of stakeholders (e.g., patients, clinicians, researchers, federal agencies) to reach consensus on the definition and parameters of ME/CFS. (p.9)
2015: Thus for progress to occur, we recommend (1) that the Oxford definition be retired, (2) that the ME/CFS community agree on a single case definition (even if it is not perfect), and (3) that patients, clinicians, and researchers agree on a definition for meaningful recovery. (p.16)
Both reports highlighted the need for collaboration and new scientists.
2011: The study of ME/CFS can benefit from an interdisciplinary collaborative approach using well-connected clinical and research networks. . . . Moreover, additional highly qualified investigators must be attracted to study ME/CFS. (p.18)
2015: [T]here is a need for partnerships across institutions to advance the research and develop new scientists. (p.14)
Both reports noted the need for educated clinicians.
2011: However, the biggest barrier to treating patients, according to Workshop participants, is lack of informed clinicians… (2011, p.6)
2015: Thus, a properly trained workforce is critical… (p.14)
If I just listed the quotes without telling you which report they came from, I bet you would not be able to tell which were from 2011 and which were from 2015. That the same points are repeated without substantive differences illustrates how little has changed, other than the year the report was issued.
Perhaps time moves at a different pace for those in charge of allocation of funds and they don’t feel the urgency we feel. However, for more than thirty years patients have grown up, lived and died, all the while being subjected to disdain and neglect. Failed policies mean there are no treatments, and this horrid disease is so disabling that patients usually live isolated, impoverished lives.
We NEED better and we DESERVE far better than occasional federal lip-service and occasional meetings.
- We (patients/caregivers, healthcare professionals, policy makers, HHS) need to be very clear about the disease being addressed.
- We need a total overhaul of federal policy regarding this disease with stakeholders as active participants.
- We need a sustained and meaningful increase in biomedical research funding and we need it now!
- We need an awareness campaign like the one outlined here.
- We need to be meaningfully involved at every step of the way in all of this.
- We want and deserve to have our productive lives back! NOW!
- We need to work together in a sustained manner to push for these changes.
And HHS ABSOLUTELY must do its part. The IOM report has been out for months and the P2P report is out now, yet there is no indication from HHS as to what they are going to do with these reports. So HHS – tell us – what you are going to do and when you are going to do it?
Talk is cheap. It’s relatively easy and cheap to hold a meeting and write a report. Investing the requisite resources in research and building the infrastructure needed to sustain progress is hard work. It’s expensive. But this is what is needed. Not more meetings. Not more spin.
Talk is cheap. It’s time to show ME the money.