(December 1, 2022) – PolyBio Research Foundation is excited to announce that an R21 grant submitted to the NIH by PolyBio co-founder Dr. Michael VanElzakker was selected for funding. The grant will support the research project “Correlating neutrophil function and plasma cytokine profiles with progression of ME/CFS and Long-Covid/PASC.” Dr. VanElzakker will lead the research in concert with members of Dr. Daniel Irimia’s laboratory at Harvard Medical School. These team members include Dr. Felix Ellett and Brittany Boribong – a postdoctoral research fellow who will play a critical role in analyzing study samples. The grant was awarded in part thanks to generous PolyBio Research Foundation donors. These donors supported early research on neutrophil activity in ME/CFS by Drs. VanElzakker and Irimia. The early data was used in the grant application as proof of feasibility for a larger study.
The larger project will continue to study the activity of immune cells called neutrophils in patients with ME/CFS and LongCovid. Neutrophils are the most common immune cell in the circulation and respond rapidly to signals of injury or infection. When activated, they exhibit observable behavioral changes that can serve as biomarkers, and their abnormal behavior may directly contribute to symptoms in patients with chronic disease.
Dr. Irimia’s team has developed an advanced panel of microfluidic assays that probe neutrophil function from a single drop of live blood, and preliminary studies in ME/CFS subjects (supported by PolyBio Research Foundation donations) suggest that multiple neutrophil functions might be altered in ME/CFS, relative to progression of disease. These include changes in neutrophil motility (their ability to move and respond to stimuli).
Neutrophils in ME/CFS and LongCovid patients may also have an increased tendency to form into extensions called Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs). NETs trap pathogens and are implicated in clotting processes. The team will test for NETs in study subjects by using microfluidic capture directly from live blood samples. They will also measure baseline and stimulated NET formation rates by time-lapse fluorescence imaging in microfluidic chambers. Analysis will also be performed in concert with microscopy that will characterizes fibrin-amyloid microclots and hyperactivated platelets in the same study subjects.