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Innovative science with human touch

Honored Professor Warren Tate sits in his office, surrounded by papers, thank-you cards, photos of family and colleagues, and amazing statues.

He speaks with passion and insight about the lives of people who have suffered from only one disease he has studied for years. Clearly cares.

The internationally renowned biomedical scientist / molecular biologist only hints at his outstanding awards, including the 2010 Rutherford Medal and the 2018 Marsden Medal.

The 75-year-old mentions the awards just because he wants his research team to be recognized as well. The two longest serving members have 60 years of combined laboratory experience.

Professor Tate’s office is located in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Dunedin, where he arrived 55 years ago.

She had already developed a remarkable research career when in 1990 her daughter Katherine contracted a febrile fever at the age of 14 years.

A few months later he developed what is now known as myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME / CFS).

“He was a lively, energetic young teenager who was very interactive,” he says.

But a soothing illness meant it was impossible to communicate with friends or stay in school for more than 10 a.m.

Clinicians said Katherine just did not want to go to school; However, the scientist knew that this was not right because he knew his son and that his fatigue was caused by a virus.

To say that this is a violation of perception is grossly offensive. “

At least 20,000 to 25,000 people in New Zealand suffer from ME / CFS and symptoms include severe fatigue, impaired memory and / or mental concentration, and insomnia.

In its acute phase, patients may be bedridden or home for three or four years and then the disease usually becomes chronic with recurrences.

But there is no diagnostic blood test and some doctors in this country and others still deny that it is a real physical disease.

Early struggle with funding

In the early 1990s, Professor Tate and his team were unable to obtain funding for ME / CFS research, despite their significant work with other brain conditions.

Around 2012, when he thought he was nearing the end of his career, he started a program to see if he could find a biological basis for the disease.

As a parent whose daughter experienced ME / CFS for 22 years, she fully believed it had a biological basis.

He says it would be good if he could bring the evidence to another conclusion.

Because there was no funding, families of sick people donated about $ 500,000 for two, four-year studies, and the associated New Zealand ME Society (ANZMES) also donated generously.

However, it was not easy.

“It was like Friday, sometimes we did not know if we would have enough money to continue. “Then suddenly we would have a donation of $ 100,000,” he recalled.

“We came out of the smell of a little oily cloth.”

The first study involved 10 patients and 10 controls. ME Clinic Expert in Auckland, Dr. Rosamund Wallings, diagnosed each patient based on Canadian clinical consensus.

The second study was longitudinal and included two young ME patients whose blood was taken within a year and a healthy young woman who was in control.

As expected, two ME patients experienced relapses during the year, one within one month and the other within two months.

Scientists have discovered many molecular differences between patients and controls.

Professor Tate says they studied immune cells and found molecular signatures of the disease, one in immune cell proteins linked to energy production and the other in DNA.

He explains how DNA contains epigenetic code that resembles a light switch that turns on and off, or decreases. This code determines the activity of all genes in the body and aims to meet the needs of the body.

They found that the “light switch” code was well refined, and ME patients had 20-30 times higher volatile epigenetic codes.

“We have found the first examples of specific molecular signatures that can be attributed to disease.”

Loyal Team: University of Otago Honorary Professor Warren Tate and Technician Tina Edgar (center) laugh as Associate Researcher Katie Pepperkorn uploads a spot stain biochemistry lab

In both studies, the team found that ME / CFS has a solid biological basis. Their findings were reviewed and published in the journal Clinical epigenetics And Journal of Translational Medicine At 202o.

Professor Tate hopes that in addition to encouraging patients with ME, the findings will lead to therapeutic ways of relieving symptoms.

During his innovative work, his research team also developed a promising molecular diagnostic test.

Living with me

Professor Tate says ME ruined his beloved Catherine’s teenage years; However, it was a joy when she gave birth to a son seven years ago.

“She lives with me every day. “Every day is a struggle,” he said.

Another member of his family also developed the disease.

While lifelong illness can have devastating consequences, people “can live constructive lives within their limitations.”

Scientists at the University of Otago are conducting myalgic studies
Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME / CFS). Photo: Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

He has great respect for ME patients who, in his experience, are very kind. Working with them was humble.

He also happily talks about his research group, which was once 25 and is now smaller. Technician Tina Edgar was with him for 40 years and assistant researcher Katie Pepperkorn for 20 years.

“I’m happy to have really loyal, talented people on my research team,” he said.

“I am approaching 76, but there is still a lot to do,” he concluded.

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ტFor additional information:

Associated New Zealand ME Society (ANZMES)

Professor Tate’s latest research

Innovative science with human touch

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