Well, here’s Professor Holgate’s response to our recent email. Do I feel heard? No. What about you?
Dear Spoonseeker (I am not sure whether this is the correct title but I hope this reaches you all),
Thank you for your email. We all recognise the concerns that are held about the MEGA Project and value your input. We are very appreciative of the enthusiasm being shown to pursue an exciting ‘omics-based research project in the field of M.E. and the issues that you have raised. We are soon (next week I hope) will be issuing a description of what MEGA comprises on a new website and will also have a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page which will be regularly updated. The latter is aimed at addressing the majority of questions that have been raised in your and other emails through the FAQs. Involvement of people with M.E. at the core of MEGA will be essential through an Advisory Group of people with M.E. and their carers.
As yet the first grant outline has not yet been submitted. We will do our very best to create the most competitive application, but even with this there is certainly no guarantee of funding. Please be assured that we will definitely involve the M.E. community in the proposal. As you will have noted I have brought the very best scientists from across the UK to assemble this application. It will be a real team effort. We need everyone’s support to help with this otherwise it will fail at the first hurdle.
Thank you again for expressing so much interest in our endeavour. Finally, I should add that I am not a CFS/M.E. researcher myself but someone who has realised we must make inroads into the causes of this (these) distressing and serious disorders.
Professor Stephen T Holgate CBE, FMedSci
MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology
This email has been sent to Professor Holgate of MEGA. Many thanks to all those who signed. (Whoops! missed a few… Total signatures now updated to 221)
((Please note that we are not the organisers of the OMEGA petition.))
Dear Professor Holgate – We comprise a number of M.E. patients and carers, 218 in all. Please see our signatures at the end of this email..
We are writing because we notice your suggestion in your letter to Professor Jonathan Edwards that OMEGA (the petition opposing the MEGA study) has attracted so many signatures due to the support of Invest In ME. We are writing to assure you that we patients and carers are able to look at the evidence and make up our own minds on such issues.
Here are some of the grave concerns that we have about the MEGA study as it has been proposed. It seems likely that you have heard many of them before but in view of your professed perplexity about the OMEGA petition, we want to make sure you are aware of the issues. For the same reason, we are copying this to the other members of the MEGA team and to those you copied in to your letter to Professor Edwards. We are also sending a copy to Professor Edwards himself, and the email will be posted online at the Spoonseeker blog.
Our concerns about MEGA include the following:
Patients from the NHS CFS/ME clinics (apparently the intended source for MEGA) will not yield a representative sample of people with M.E. The reasons for this include:
- Most severely affected patients cannot access the clinics and so will not be included in the study.
- There will be an inevitable selection bias towards the mildly affected because
- the clinics will tend to select such patients as those most likely to respond to the behavioural therapies on offer, and
- the more severely affected patients will be more likely to reject such therapies – and hence the clinics – as inappropriate.
- Other more severely affected patients will no longer be on the clinic’s system
- either because they have not responded well to the therapies, dropped out, and not been followed up (as feedback suggests is often the case) or
- they are among the long term sick who are no longer on the system because treatment is time-restricted
There has been a suggestion, following representations from patients, Continue reading “The OMEGA Petition – Email to Professor Holgate”
Following on from the previous post about Prof Esther Crawley’s broadcast on BBC Radio Bristol, Dr Phil Hammond has left a response to my letter and I in turn – along with some other correspondents – have replied.
Meanwhile, there has been excellent news from the ME Association who have launched an appeal for a metabolomics study using samples from the existing British biobank, which will include the severely affected. Psychiatrists will not be among the researchers…
You can find more information and details of how to donate here.
Following last Saturday’s interview with Prof Esther Crawley on BBC Radio Bristol, I sent the following letter to Dr Phil Hammond who hosted the programme. I think it explains a large part of the reason why patients with M.E. have problems with Dr Crawley and why we don’t want her involved with the proposed MEGA study:
Dear Dr Hammond
Thank you for putting the concerns of ME/CFS patients to Prof Esther Crawley in your interview on Radio Bristol last Saturday. Unfortunately, as I have tried to explain as briefly as possible below, her responses were largely factually incorrect. I wonder if next time you have her on your programme, you could also invite the investigative journalist David Tuller whose original in-depth analysis brought the many and in some cases outrageous defects of the PACE Trial to wider attention. This led to numerous condemnations of PACE from eminent researchers in the field of ME/CFS. Here are just two of them:
Prof. Ronald Davis of Stanford University said: “I’m shocked that the Lancet published it…The PACE study has so many flaws and there are so many questions you’d want to ask about it that I don’t understand how it got through any kind of peer review.”
Prof. Jonathan Edwards of University College London said: “It’s a mass of un-interpretability to me…All the issues with the trial are extremely worrying, making interpretation of the clinical significance of the findings more or less impossible.”
PACE’s recommendations for the use of CBT and graded exercise therapy (GET) for ME/CFS have frequently been reported by the British media but the important work of Mr Tuller has been ignored, so grossly distorting the information which has been made available to the British public. It would be an invaluable service if your programme could help to redress this imbalance.
When asked about the recent PACE reanalysis on your programme, Prof Crawley replied as follows: Continue reading “Letter to Dr Phil Hammond”
((Please note that I am not involved in organising the OMEGA petition.))
It’s taken me a while to sign up to the OMEGA petition because I’ve really wanted to find a way for the MEGA ‘biomedical research’ study to work.
Steps could be taken to improve the original proposal. As suggested in the previous post, the patient sample could be obtained not from the NHS clinics but from the existing UK Biobank. There are nowhere near enough samples in the Biobank at present but there is already funding for more, and more samples still could be added as further funding is obtained. Using the already established methodology, with patients coming through GPs, this could produce a reliable sample with the focus on PEM. There would be plenty of severe and moderate patients and – if my rudimentary understanding of ‘big data’ is correct – the sample need not be as large as the one from the clinics as patients with other fatigue conditions would not be included.
If Dr Charles Shepherd – or someone appointed by him – could be in charge of this then I am sure that the majority of the patient community would get behind the project. But would such a switch be achievable? That is the problem. The word is that Prof Esther Crawley is in charge of patient selection – and is unlikely to want to change the way it is done.
The involvement of Prof Crawley, of course, has been one of the main reasons why patients have been uneasy about MEGA right from its first announcement. Yesterday’s publicity about FITNET, Crawley’s upcoming online CBT study, has come as a timely reminder of why that is.
Yesterday’s reports were brimming over with misinformation. Continue reading “Why We All Need To Sign The OMEGA Petition”
Steve Hawkins, who often comments here at the blog and quietly does a lot of useful activist stuff behind the scenes, left the following comment/proposal on the OMEGA petition site (and added it here in response to the previous post). I thought it was worthy of a wider audience so I’m reposting it here to kick off today’s blog:
‘It seems unfortunate that there has to be a petition of this kind against what, in the right hands, and with careful preparation of protocols in advance, would undoubtedly be a gathering of very useful data; and I feel uncomfortable that this will discourage some of the very able researchers and research teams who have been brought into the MEGA group but had no part in earlier ill advised research proposals; but it seems that something of this sort will have to be done, to ensure a complete new start, and clean break with the discredited ‘science’ of biopsychosocial egotists.
‘I apologise to the, well-meaning, I’m sure, Prof. Holgate, and those others who I fear have had to be reticent in criticising poor research, because of the binding conditions that were attached to membership of the Research Collaborative, under the direction of the partisan ‘Science Media Centre’, but the time really has come to return to both freedom of speech and information in this research field, after the gambit of crying ‘harassment’ after any honest questioning, has been so clearly shown up for what it was, in the courts.
‘I would advise that a new steering group be set up for a large and inclusive, data gathering and biomic sequencing and typing study with the major emphasis on the severely affected, who are the most likely to yield clear differences worthy of more intensive study. By all means collect data from a quota of less severely disabled/sick patients as well, but only to the number necessary to provide a control match for each of the seriously ill study subjects. A similar number of healthy controls will also be needed.
‘Thus the size and expense of the study should stem from the maximum number of seriously ill participants for statistical certainty… (plus controls). If that turns out to be a very big cost Continue reading “Getting Airborne”
Following on from their original email and Professor Holgate’s response, Leeds ME Network have sent a further email to Prof Holgate of CMRC about concerns regarding the proposed MEGA project:
Many thanks for your swift response to my previous email regarding the MEGA study and for passing our concerns on to those who are preparing the bid for funding…
It is heartening to hear from your email that the inclusion of very severe patients is under discussion by the MEGA team. I notice, however, that you mention ‘financial limitations’ in this context. The reaction of other patients with whom I have shared this issue echoes my own: that severely affected patients should be the priority. People with ME/CFS in general are offered little in the way of treatment but most of the severely affected are abandoned entirely by doctors. They are left to lie in darkened rooms, often unable even to sit up in bed or converse with their loved ones, and without any prospect of medical intervention. I’m sure you know all this. Though I cannot claim to have taken a scientific sample of opinion, the overwhelming impression I get from patients is that if there are financial constraints regarding MEGA then these should apply to the overall number of samples taken rather than be focussed on the severely affected, who are the ones most in need of help. I am reminded of Prof Ron Davis’ observation that data from severely affected patients is the most important ‘because their biology would show the greatest differences compared with healthy controls’. It seems incongruous to be envisaging such an enormous study yet even at this stage, while the grant submission is still being prepared, to be talking about insufficient money for full inclusion in the study of those most in need of help.
A further issue regarding patient selection occurred to me while reading through the ‘questions and answers’ update on the MEGA petition website:
The update says: “The only way to do this is to recruit patients through NHS clinics throughout England.”
As I described in my previous email, taking patients from the clinics alone would produce a sample of patients biased towards the less severely affected. Continue reading “More on MEGA”
Following yesterday’s emails to Prof Holgate, Chair of the CMRC, and Sonya Chowdhury of Action for ME, Leeds ME Network has received short responses from both of them including a bit of encouraging news.
Prof Holgate said: “The preparation of the initial outline for this grant is very much ongoing. I am sure the applicants will be as inclusive as possible, and I am already aware of a discussion of how to include very severe house-bound patients. Finance will be a limiting factor.” He says he will pass the email on to those involved in preparing the grant outline.
Sonya Chowdhury said she would leave it to Prof Holgate to respond on behalf of MEGA but was able to confirm the following:“There has never been any suggestion that individuals for the patient advisory group will be Action for ME recruited; indeed I believe I have tweeted to this effect. We completely expect the group to be representative and recruited transparently.”
So, two pieces of encouraging news: about the housebound patients and the recruitment of the patient advisory group. I’m a bit concerned, though, about yet another mention of the limitations of finance when the severely affected are mentioned. This is a massive study with 12,000 patients seeking finance in excess of £5m. Surely with so much invested, we can make sure that the severely affected are adequately represented…
In an earlier post, I published an email from Leeds ME Network to Sonya Chowdhury, CEO of Action for ME, expressing reservations about the presence of Profs White and Crawley on the team of the proposed MEGA biomedical research project. Here is the latest update from Leeds ME Network:
In response to our letter to Sonya Chowdhury, we have just received what appears to be a standard letter referring to the latest updates on the MEGA petition page at Change.org. Leeds ME Network have now responded in turn with the following email, slight variations of which will be sent to Ms Chowdhury; Stephen Holgate the CMRC Chair; Dr Charles Shepherd at ME Association; and ME Research UK. Our email follows:
We are grateful to the MEGA team for letting us know about the proposed CFS/ME biomedical research project. We believe it is very important that this study goes ahead but in view of some of the less than helpful research which has taken place in the past (in particular, of course, we are thinking of the PACE trial) we hope you will understand why we patients are keen to voice our concerns about the proposal.
1) The impression has been given that patients for the study group will all be drawn from the NHS Clinics. It seems clear that such a sample would be heavily biased towards less severely affected patients and that the sample would therefore be unrepresentative of the total patient population.
The reasons for this are as follows: Continue reading “Making the Most of MEGA”
The last draft post I wrote about the MEGA petition was superseded by events before I finished it, so I’ll try and crack on with this one before the same thing happens again. Of course ‘cracking on’ in ME terms is still kind of slow but I’ll see if I can break the tortoise barrier.
So, what’s happened recently?
Well, we’ve been told that Peter White is retiring from research and will only be an ‘advisor’ to MEGA from now on. This perspective appears to be endorsed by the latest list of MEGA personnel, which no longer includes him. I can only give a muted ‘hurrah’ to this one. Advice is dangerous stuff and you can still do a lot of damage with it. His PACE Trial is swiftly becoming a watchword for bad science (see here, here, and here). Is he really the sort of ME ‘expert’ that either we patients or the MEGA team want around to guide this latest project?
It really is astonishing that MEGA apparently do still want him around after all he has done, and that they clearly expect patients to put up with it. It seems to me that if a passing Martian was given a brief course in English and the full facts, then even he (or she) would swiftly understand why we don’t want Prof White anywhere near this project. Why do the MEGA team not get this?
People with ME have been left on the scrapheap for decades. I myself have been ill for over thirty years. That’s over half my life. I have no children because of it. I lost my job. My life is very limited. Yet I am one of the relatively lucky ones. I can sit and tap at this keyboard – as long as I take plenty of rests to fend off the shoulder and eye pain and overall exhaustion. There are plenty of others who have to spend all their lives in bed, who can’t stand the light, who can’t even talk to their loved ones. We’ve all heard about Whitney Defoe whose birthday it recently was. He is not alone in his suffering. The vast majority of the severely ill are left to fend for themselves as best they can. Rarely do doctors come near them and they wouldn’t know what to do if they did.
And all this time, all these decades, so little research has been done, in large part because of the fairy story dreamed up by the PACE researchers and their associates: the fairy story that Continue reading “A Broader Picture”