Public Release: 

New research effort into causes of chronic fatigue syndrome

Part of the new Chronic Fatigue Initiative, the research program will leverage the Center for Infection and Immunity's expertise in microbe hunting to shed light on possible infectious causes of the mysterious disorder

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

September 27, 2011 --The Chronic Fatigue Initiative (CFI) -- a new privately funded research directive focused on chronic fatigue syndrome -- announced a substantial grant to a Columbia University research team to investigate the role of pathogens in causing chronic fatigue syndrome. The pathogen discovery and pathogenesis program will be led by Drs. Ian Lipkin and Mady Hornig of the Center for Infection and Immunity.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition believed to affect about 1million Americans. It is characterized by symptoms similar to those of common viral infections and can include muscle aches, headache and extreme fatigue. Its cause is unknown, and currently there is no cure.

Established by a donation of more than $10 million from the Hutchins Family Foundation, the Chronic Fatigue Initiative will bring together medical experts from the world's leading research institutions, including Columbia, Harvard, Stanford and Duke Universities. The Initiative's initial phase of funding includes support for pathogenesis research at the Center for Infection and Immunity, and for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, where it will establish the Hutchins Family Fellowship in Infectious Disease under the direction of Dr. Scott Hammer, professor of epidemiology and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.

"Dr. Hornig was the prime mover in designing the research plan and will be shepherding the CFI's research at the Center for Infection and Immunity," said Dr. Lipkin, the director of CII.

Dr. Hornig, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and director of Translational Research at CII, will direct research on biomarkers and pathogen discovery for the Chronic Fatigue Initiative. The research will focus on characterizing the causes of this enigmatic disorder.

Scientists will examine samples from 200 patients and controls using state-of-the-art molecular techniques pioneered at CII. Patients will be recruited across the country from five clinical sites that specialize in chronic fatigue syndrome.

During the first part of the project, they will screen for already known pathogens thought to be associated with the disease. Then they will use unbiased genetic sequencing to help them identify any novel pathogens. CII scientists will also look at patients' host response profiles -- the immune molecule and antibody signatures in their peripheral blood samples. This will enable researchers to get a comprehensive picture of what is happening in individual patients in relation to pathogens to which they may have been exposed and could lead to the identification of biomarkers for CFS.

Drs. Lipkin and Hornig will also collaborate with Dr. Scott M. Hammer and the inaugural Hutchins Family Fellow for Infectious Disease at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia -- Dr. Claire Gordon.

"This is a truly exciting opportunity to understand the causes of this often neglected disorder," said Dr. Hornig. "We hope our findings will lead to better diagnoses and the development of an effective treatment."


About Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Founded in 1922 as one of the first three public health academies in the nation, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health pursues an agenda of research, education, and service to address the critical and complex public health issues affecting New Yorkers, the nation and the world. The Mailman School is the third largest recipient of NIH grants among schools of public health. Its over 300 multi-disciplinary faculty members work in more than 100 countries around the world, addressing such issues as preventing infectious and chronic diseases, environmental health, maternal and child health, health policy, climate change & health, and public health preparedness. It is a leader in public health education with over 1,000 graduate students from more than 40 nations pursuing a variety of master's and doctoral degree programs. The Mailman School is also home to numerous world-renowned research centers including the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, and the Center for Infection and Immunity. For more information, please visit

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