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Dr. Nancy Klimas Forms Neuro-Immune Institute on ME/CFS at Nova Southeastern University

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Posted by Cort Johnson

Last week a notice from the University of Miami stating that after 27 years Dr. Klimas’s doors at the University would close sent something of a shock wave through the ME/CFS community. The idea that a significant CFS researcher, physician and advocate had perhaps lost her academic base was more than disturbing – but that announcement turned out to be nothing but a prelude to the really big news; it turned out that University of Miami didn’t let her go at all – Dr. Klimas left them for greener, much greener pastures.

In fact Dr. Klimas was given an offer – to form a Neuro-Immune Institute at Nova Southeastern – that she couldn’t refuse. Dr. Klimas had a good run at the University of Miami; she had a clinic on campus and a lot of CFS research flowed through her doors there but this is something else indeed. In her release to her patients she called this a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’

I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to direct a newly formed Institute at Nova Southeastern University, whose sole purpose is the study of neuroimmune diseases, particularly CFS/ME and GWI.

Think bigger and better in every way; more resources, more room for the patients, (more patients), the best technology, more research, more collaboration. This Institute is going to make a difference.

It gives us the opportunity to substantially increase resources for our patients and our research, and puts all of that under one virtual roof. (The Institutes) laboratory based research program (will be) exploring causes of illness, biomarkers, models for novel interventions strategies; all using the most advanced tools available today.

Think more collaboration – much more. Dr. Klimas has always been avid collaborator. As a CFSAC member she showed a flair for ferreting out opportunities and building partnerships. She recently took the lead in developing the CASA project that aims to integrate ME/CFS research databases. Mentioned three times in the announcement, collaboration – with researchers both inside and outside the field, doctors and the patient community – will be a key goal.

The new institute will partner with other institutions, foundations, institutes, groups, and individuals to move forward in our goals. (It will be a) platform to draw in outstanding scientists and clinicians from this field and related fields to develop collaborations through regular onsite and virtual meetings. We will use a “think tank” model to draw in access to new technology and thinking to this important work.

A Busy Time – Dr. Klimas will spend the next couple of probably very busy months forming a long-range plan, recruiting new faculty and opening up a new clinic and figuring out ways to maximize the effectiveness of this startling new entrant in the ME/CFS fields. Expect a public announcement from Nova Southeastern U next week.

My intention is to spend the next few months developing a long-range plan that will include expanding clinical services to a site in western Broward county, recruiting faculty, and developing a wider circle of research collaborators and partners to move the field forward.

Research Continuity and Expansion – Dr. Klimas had a good research base at the Univ of Miami. Her work with U of M researcher Dr. Fletcher dates back over 20 years and she has also worked with Dr. Hurwitz, Dr. Antoni and others. That work will continue and undoubtedly be strengthened as the Institute grows. The announcement indicates that Dr. Klimas is already making connections with researchers on NSU as well.

We will continue to collaborate with the UM researchers, particularly the genomics folks and Dr Fletcher’s immunology team, and I will continue to lead the GWI clinic and research program at the VA. NSU committed to recruiting additional faculty for the institute, and has some amazing investigators in place doing work in related areas

A Transition Period  – There will be a transition period as the Institute is being created.

We expect a bit of chaos in the transition, please be patient! For more information, call the NSU Call Center at (954) NSU-CARE (678-2273). Both Dr. Irma Rey and I will be seeing patients in the clinics, and we will be bringing in new staff and training clinicians to hone their skills and develop their expertise.

A Culmination – Dr. Klimas has spent her career working towards this opportunity. As a researcher, physician and advocate (IACFS/ME President, CFSAC rep), no one has worked harder, collaborated more or taken on more varied projects. Dr. Klimas simply shows up where the action is. She probably has more contacts in her CFS rolodex than anyone. Nova Southeastern U couldn’t have picked a more dynamic or connected person to put their new Institute on the map.

There will be an opportunity for you to share in this exciting new institute and help to create something very special. I see lots of fine science in our future, and that means progress and better care for all of you!

(The full text of Dr. Klimas announcement is at the end of this article)

Dr. Nancy Klimas – A ME/CFS Pioneer

You have to go back, way back – over twenty years – to find Dr. Klimas’s first contribution to ME/CFS research. With a nice career in HIV research underway – in a move that must have left some of her colleagues shaking their heads- Dr. Klimas (and her colleague, Dr. Fletcher) took a chance on a very sketchy disease early in their career. A strong advocate, Dr. Klimas secured a position for Dr. DeFreitas at the Univ. of Miami as the first retroviral findings in CFS twenty years ago were going sour. (Unfortunately poor health limited Dr. DeFreitas stay there.)

Dr. Klimas and Dr. Fletcher have played significant roles in uncovering the immune abnormalities present in this disorder. Their work started early with a first paper on natural killer cell dysfunction appearing in 1990 and has continued on and off for over 20 years.

A 2005 Klimas/Fletcher study indicated reduced perforin may be the culprit in the low NK cell problems. A 2006 paper suggested that the first verified subset in ME/CFS could very well end up being poor NK cell functioning. Digging deeper the Klimas/Fletcher team was the first to find an explicit connection between two key parts of the CFS puzzle – the immune system and the sympathetic nervous system – with their natural killer cell and neuropeptide Y findings.

Now believed to be major player in ME/CFS pathophysiology, the Fletcher/Klimas research has spurred researchers from across the US, including the CDC, and now Australia to tackle natural killer cell research. Dr. Dan Peterson of Simmaron Research recently noted that his decades of experience treating CFS suggests to him that poor NK cell function sets the stage for problems of all sorts in this disorder.

An eager collaborator, Dr. Klimas jumped onto the Vernon/Broderick team’ exploration of cytokine networks in 2010 and then with the Australian PHANU team in 2011. Most recently Dr Klimas was a co-author of the International Consensus Criteria for ME.

In between her research and her work as a physician, Dr. Klimas has forged a career of public service in CFS that may be unmatched. Twice President of our professional organization for CFS under Dr Klimas direction the organization changed its name from AACFS to IACFS/ME and took on a more international outlook. Dr. Klimas then served a term on the federal advisory committee for CFS (CFSAC).

A longtime physician specializing in ME/CFS, HIV and GWI, Dr. Klimas received the Nelson Gantz Clinician award at the 2011 IACFS/ME Conference (Dr. Fletcher received the Research Excellence Award). Dr. Klimas endeared herself to CFS patients around the world and, no doubt, caused a collective gasp in the traditional medical community, when she boldly stated in the New York Times.

My H.I.V. patients for the most part are hale and hearty thanks to three decades of intense and excellent research and billions of dollars invested. Many of my C.F.S. patients, on the other hand, are terribly ill and unable to work or participate in the care of their families.I split my clinical time between the two illnesses, and I can tell you if I had to choose between the two illnesses (in 2009) I would rather have H.I.V.

Dr. Klimas recently stopped her work on HIV and now focuses solely on ME/CFS and GWI.

Nova Southeastern University (Wikipedia)

Nova Southeastern University or NOVA or NSU is a private research University located in Broward County, Florida. It consists of 18 colleges and schools offering over 175 programs of study with more than 250 majors and offers professional degrees in law, business, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, and nursing. Its College of Osteopathic medicine was the first osteopathic medical school to be established in the Southeastern United States. It was ranked by Washington Monthly as the 157th best University in the US.

The College of Allied Health and Sciences is the #1 producer in Physician Assistants in the country and has the highest passer rating of nurses, with an average score of 97.4, which is the highest in the state of Florida and 15th best in the United States. The College of Medical Sciences offers a two year program of study leading to a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences.

The Full Text of Dr. Klimas’s Announcement

I am writing to let you know that I will be retiring from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, after 27 years of service in December. I am tremendously proud of my colleagues at the University of Miami, and the work of the interdisciplinary team that has worked together as we studied a series of complex medical illnesses together, from HIV to CFS and Gulf War Illness. It is important work, and I remain committed to this field. It is this commitment that leads me to accept a new challenge.

I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to direct a newly formed Institute at Nova Southeastern University, whose sole purpose is the study of neuroimmune diseases, particularly CFS/ME and GWI; the NSU Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine.

It gives us the opportunity to substantially increase resources for our patients and our research, and puts all of that under one virtual roof. My intention is to spend the next few months developing a long range plan that will include expanding clinical services to a site in western Broward county, recruiting faculty, and developing a wider circle of research collaborators and partners to move the field forward.

The new institute will partner with other institutions, foundations, institutes, groups, and individuals to move forward in our goals. There will be an opportunity for you to share in this exciting new institute and help to create something very special.

The new institute will have 4 key features:

  1. Clinics that are integrated with the research program, allowing patients to opt in to using their clinical information in our studies of natural history, clinical response to therapeutic approaches, and access to clinical trials and other studies. Dr Irma Rey will be joining me in this new program. We expect a bit of chaos in the transition, please be patient! For more information, call the NSU Call Center at (954) NSU-CARE (678-2273). Both Dr. Irma Rey and I will be seeing patients in the clinics, and we will be bringing in new staff and training clinicians to hone their skills and develop their expertise.
  2. Laboratory based research program exploring causes of illness, biomarkers, models for novel interventions strategies; all using the most sophisticated tools available today.
  3. Virtual science – a platform to draw in outstanding scientists and clinicians from this field and related fields to develop collaborations through regular onsite and virtual meetings. We will use a “think tank” model to draw in access to new technology and thinking to this important work.
  4. Community and advocacy involvement from the design of the institute through to operation, using an advisory committee, web based interactive discussions, and webinars. We are open to all advocacy groups and individuals in our desire to involve everyone in this, it is a community project. It is my sincere hope the Institute will promote unity towards one single purpose: curing these serious illnesses. Over the coming months we will be reaching out to you and keeping you informed of our progress.

The new Institute will also be relying heavily on philanthropy, and has established a fund for that purpose, the NSU Institute for Neuro Immune Medicine fund. Specify this fund if you choose to consider a holiday gift though the NSU gift website: http://www.nova.edu/changingtheworld/index.html.

It is such an exciting concept; I will certainly work hard to make it successful. The potential for the new institute is limited only by our imaginations, so I ask for your help, your ideas and support are key to our success.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the support you have shown me personally and my clinical and research program. Thank you. I look forward to working with you from a different perspective as the young institute develops and grows.

Wish me luck!

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