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Research Projects Funded

AFSA is the only charitable organization whose primary mission is to seed research on fibromyalgia. We acknowledge that patient and physician education, public awareness and advocacy are all important ingredients in aiding the lives of people with fibromyalgia. However, advances in research provide the most crucial ingredient for enriching the daily well-being of those who suffer with this hard-to-treat disease. Our research-funding objective is to advance the science of fibromyalgia, as well as provide better therapeutic interventions for all patients.

Brain Response to Immune Challenge
(January 2020)

Infections, trauma, lack of sleep, and stress to the body are known to make fibromyalgia symptoms flare up, but the physiological reason for flare-ups is a mystery. Is it possible that a subtle immune challenge to people with fibromyalgia produces an exaggerated microglia response in the brain and worsens your symptoms? “We believe these cells are hypersensitized in fibromyalgia,” says Jarred Younger, Ph.D., the principal investigator of this project.

Ordinarily, the body’s immune system works like a protective shield to cast aside daily exposures to viruses, allergens, and other substances. Few, if any, brain cells become active when the threat level is just a minor nuisance. But if these brain cells are super-sensitive in fibromyalgia, even subtle immune insults that may occur daily could lead to an overly robust activation of the microglia.

This study will look at the brain’s metabolic processes before and after subjects are injected with a tiny amount of lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS tricks the body into thinking there is an infection, causing the microglia to produce various chemicals and raise brain temperature. However, Younger will be using such a low dose that it won’t alarm the microglia in the healthy controls—they will just keep on snoozing. These same cells should become further activated, perhaps even frazzled, in people with fibromyalgia.

Detecting Brain Inflammation using PET
(February 2019)

Feel like you have a nasty flu bug that never leaves? This study provides a scientific reason for this! Immune cells (called microglia) in the brain go ballistic in an effort to protect your brain when a virus enters your system. After all, it would be bad news if the virus gained access to your brain. But in the process of protecting the brain, these immune cells secrete chemicals that make people sick … at least for a day or two. Based on the results of this study (published in PAIN, October 2023), these cells are chronically “turned on” to cause inflammation throughout the brain and are linked to greater pain, fatigue, and fibrofog.

Genetic Influences on the Pain Control System
(October 2009)

“There is a genetic predisposition to developing fibromyalgia, so why not look at the main neurotransmitters that play a role in pain control?” asks Serge Marchand, Ph.D., the principal investigator. The body’s pain inhibitory controls in the central nervous system rely heavily on serotonin and dopamine. When a potentially painful stimulus enters the spinal cord, one of these transmitters signal the release of opioid-like pain relievers. Genetic glitches that alter the function of dopamine and serotonin could help explain why people with fibromyalgia have so much pain.

Biomarker Expression on Blood Leukocytes
(September 2009)

Could your body be making too many sensory receptors that are actively sounding off the alarms for pain and fatigue? If so, your brain would be bombarded with these signals while resting, and perhaps even more so during exercise. Identifying biomarkers on leukocytes (white blood cells) in people with fibromyalgia was the goal of this study, and it turned up several exciting new findings.

Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN) for Treating Fibro
(September 2008)

Most treatments for fibromyalgia are designed to improve the operation of the pain control mechanisms in the central nervous system (CNS). In other words, they target the neurons. But you have immune cells in your CNS that exert a tremendous influence over how your neurons work to control pain. More than one study has now shown that these immune cells are on the rampage in fibromyalgia and they need to be quieted down. LDN is different from most drugs that treat fibromyalgia because it does not target the neurons, it works to quiet down these immune cells. The goal of this treatment trial is to determine if LDN can reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Role of Myofascial Trigger Points (MTPs)
(September 2008)

You’ve probably felt the rock-like nodules or knots in your muscles called myofascial trigger points or MTPs. When pressed, MTPs hurt and radiate pain. Yet, no studies have been done to determine how many MTPs fibromyalgia patients have, where they are most often located, and how they may be contributing to the symptoms. MTPs give off spontaneous electrical activity and can be objectively identified by electromyography. Hong-You Ge, M.D., Ph.D., of Denmark, will use electromyography to evaluate fibromyalgia patients for MTPs and determine the role they play in producing fibromyalgia pain. Ge found that MTPs play a substantial role in generating your symptoms, which means more focus should be placed on treating them.

The Impact of MTPs on Pressure Pain Thresholds
(September 2008)

Cesar Fernandez de las Penas, Ph.D., of Spain, will take a different approach to the project listed above by Dr. Hong-You Ge. Both studies will determine the prevalence of MTPs, but this project will assess the impact of MTPs on each fibromyalgia patient’s pressure pain threshold. The lower the pain threshold, the less effective the central nervous system’s pain control mechanisms are. In addition, the 18 tender point areas that were used for decades to diagnose fibromyalgia were evaluated for the presence of MTPs. This goal will also be assessed by the above study. Why the overlap? It will take more than one research team to prove that most of the tender points (90 percent) are MTPs, which are treatable problems in the muscles.