Grobstein, Joan, M.D. - Comment to IOM Meeting 1/27/2014

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Hello. I’m Joan Grobstein, M.D.

This committee has been asked to develop evidence-based clinical diagnostic criteria for ME/CFS. This could be a very easy task because the Canadian Consensus definition has already been developed by experts in the field, has been recommended by the primary professional society for this disease and was recently endorsed again by experts. Clearly, experts think the evidence supports the Canadian definition. It isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Few medical definitions are perfect, since knowledge changes over time. The Canadian is adequate and should be used. Thus your primary task has essentially already been done. If you choose to endorse it, you can spend the million dollars allocated to this report to identify the many gaps in our knowledge of ME/CFS and put together a sorely needed research plan with adequate funding.

Unfortunately, the evidence base for ME/CFS has been adversely affected by two factors: lack of research funding and a multitude of definitions of the disease. ME/CFS receives approximately 6 million dollars per year in most years. Compare this to the billion dollars per year that has allowed AIDS patients to lead essentially normal lives. Because of poor funding, none of the definitions are particularly well-supported by research and many aspects of the disease--multiple infections, immune and mitochondrial dysfunction, and orthostasis--have not been adequately studied. Large, well-powered studies are rare. And, because there are overly broad definitions of “CFS” that include many patients who don’t have ME, there are studies in the literature that do not apply to ME patients at all.

The CDC study will not clarify the definition. The design is flawed--most of the data is self-reported symptoms. The patient community has begged the CDC to collect data on promising objective measures such as 2 day CPET, viral loads and natural killer cell function. The CDC has refused.

Please note that treatment of infections, hypotension, and immune and mitochondrial dysfunction have helped patients in small studies. Looking at evidence of successful treatment, published and unpublished, helps to define the disease’s essential features.

Post-exertional malaise, orthostatic intolerance, cognitive dysfunction, and viral symptoms are the most disabling aspects of ME/CFS. The Canadian includes these and other important aspects; Fukuda and other even broader definitions do not require them. Broad definitions make it impossible to identify abnormalities in bona fide ME patients.

Since the definition issue can be easily solved by endorsing the Canadian, I urge you to address the issue that has made it difficult to characterize the disease and make progress: poor funding. Be bold. Good science costs money. DHHS has asked the wrong questions, but you can still give them the right answers: use the Canadian and increase funding. The medical community has treated this group of patients poorly.

You, as medical leaders, have the opportunity to begin to change that reality.

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