The Lipkin Microbiome Crowdfunding Campaign Launches!

W. Ian Lipkin
Dr. W. Ian Lipkin.
Image courtesy of the Columbia University Center for Infection and Immunity

An ambitious $1.27m international, patient-led fundraising campaign storms into action. Sasha invites you to join it!​

This week sees the launch of a major new crowdfunding campaign: the Microbe Discovery Project. The campaign aims to raise $1.27 million (£760,000; €910,000) by 31 December 2014 to fund world-famous virus-hunter Dr. Ian Lipkin’s ground-breaking study of ME/CFS and the gut microbiome – our intestinal ecosystem of bacteria, viruses and fungi.

The study

The study is spectacular, because of the series of crucial, cumulative steps that it makes to identify what might be driving our immune problems and hence our symptoms.

The study will take place at Dr. Lipkin’s 60-strong Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University in New York, the world’s largest and most advanced academic center in microbe discovery and diagnosis.

First, blood and faecal samples will be taken from 100 patients who each fulfil both the Fukuda and Canadian Consensus diagnostic criteria, and from 100 matched controls. Dr. Lipkin’s team will identify the viruses, fungi and bacteria in the guts of the study subjects using high-throughput DNA sequencing. They will then determine the amounts of each microbe using highly accurate real-time PCR assays that are specific to each microbe.

Bacteria Attacking Cell
“Bacteria Attacking Cell”
Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan/

Next, blood levels of cytokines (immune-system messenger molecules) will be measured to produce an immune profile for each patient. Biostatisticians will then analyze the cytokine and microbiome profiles to identify a potential link to ME/CFS and to define the relationship between immune markers and candidate microbes. In addition, the team will develop antibody tests for any microbes that appear to be related to immune dysfunction.

These stages together will make this a definitive study that has the potential to produce diagnostic tests for key microbes and to lead to treatments using drugs, probiotics or exclusion diets.

Some of these treatments, such as exclusion diets, have the potential to be rapidly adopted without having to go through the lengthy process of clinical trials and approval by the US FDA and other countries’ health institutions. In the absence so far of any FDA-approved drug treatments for ME/CFS, Dr. Lipkin’s study therefore appears immensely attractive.

The NIH falls short

Dr. Lipkin and his researchers have already sought funding and have so far been unable to fully finance the study. The NIH, of course, has always treated ME/CFS research poorly, giving us roughly $5 million a year to MS’s $115 million. Dr. Nancy Klimas has reported that in 2014, the NIH will give $3 million to ME/CFS and $18 million to study male-pattern baldness.

So, with funding to do only 10% of the work for the study, Dr. Lipkin put out a plea for funds during the 10 September 2013 CDC PCOCA Telephone Broadcast, saying, “[…] it is probably inappropriate for me to be passing the hat, but that’s precisely what I am doing.”

Video: Dr W. Ian Lipkin appeals for support for the ME/CFS microbiome study​

One patient makes a difference

Dr Ian lipkin with member of the Microbe Discovery Project
A member of the campaign team and Dr. W. Ian Lipkin at the Stanford ME/CFS Symposium 2014

Vanessa Li, an ME/CFS patient, heard the broadcast and was so frustrated that such an important and promising project could be lost that she decided to start a campaign to crowdfund it. She contacted Dr. Lipkin’s office, gained their agreement for a campaign, and recruited other patient-volunteers to help.

Her timing for such a crowdfunding project is perfect. During the last year, patients have learned that together they can raise very substantial sums extremely quickly if they’re donating to a specific project rather than to a charity’s bottomless general research fund.

We’ve seen patients and supporters in Norway – with a population of only 5 million – raise $430,000 in 90 days for a clinical trial of Rituximab and, since then, a slew of US-based ME/CFS crowdfunding campaigns reaching or exceeding their targets at astonishing speeds: $213,000 in 31 days for the Canary in a Coal Mine documentary film; $18,000 in 35 days for the documentary The Blue Ribbon; and $150,000 in 75 days for an Open Medicine Foundation study of Vitamin B12.

It’s clear that when patients see a project that inspires them and an organised campaign gets behind it, the donations come storming in. We also know that when many small donors get the fundraising total to a certain level, large donors come forward: this is exactly what happened when a single donor gave $300,000 to Invest in ME’s UK Rituximab trial for ME/CFS after patients had raised $90,000.

The campaign

To get the fundraising drive underway, the campaign team have created a Facebook page with news and updates and a website designed to funnel people straight to Columbia’s donations page (if you need help, visit the campaign website’s donations page for instructions). The site includes a video message from Dr. Lipkin, information about the study and the scientists, the latest news, updates on the total sum raised, and suggestions for how you can fundraise and help spread the word about the campaign, including a template letter you can send to your local newspaper.

Image courtesy of Center for Infection and Immunity
Columbia University Center for Infection and Immunity
Image courtesy of CII

The Center for Infection and Immunity themselves are, of course, also promoting the study to potential donors via their own social media.

The campaign team have contacted leading bloggers to ask for coverage; this article on Phoenix Rising alone will reach thousands of readers. To get the message out even further, the fundraising team will conduct a mass email and Facebook contact campaign to tell individuals and organisations in our community about the project and to ask them to spread the message through their own social networks.

The team have plenty of other plans up their sleeves, which you can find out about on their website and Facebook page as things start rolling.

A rising tide

It’s hard to overstate Dr. Lipkin’s international reputation – he has just been awarded the highly prestigious Mendel Medal, given to outstanding contemporary scientists of the calibre of Nobel Laureates – and it is also hard to exaggerate what his involvement in our disease could mean for us. A finding from his laboratory would get the kind of attention from scientists and clinicians that at present we can only dream of and has the potential to lead rapidly to treatments.

There is already tremendous excitement about the study in the ME/CFS community and it’s building. A crowdfunding campaign for Dr. Lipkin’s project will attract attention from our own community that other studies would struggle to get and will allow us to reach out beyond we few thousand who follow blogs and forums and access the wider world of ME/CFS patients and beyond, just as Maria Gjerpe’s MEandYou campaign raised the profile of the disease across Norway.

Our donation base will permanently grow. Every other study that we want to crowdfund in future will benefit. A rising tide floats all boats.

So, donate from anywhere in the world, visit the campaign website, find out how to fundraise and to spread the word, and join with us.

Dr. Lipkin’s involvement gives us an unprecedented opportunity to change the game. Let’s take it!


Given the importance of spreading the word about this major appeal, Phoenix Rising is happy to permit immediate republication of the entire article. Please accompany with the following accreditation: ‘Article by Sasha, first published on Phoenix Rising:’ Thank you.

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