Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain, sleep problems, fatigue, and psychological distress, including anxiety and depression. Most often recognized by the stiffness and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints, fibromyalgia may also cause co-morbid conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, and jaw pain.
While current research has focused on several possible causes of the condition from abnormal levels of serotonin and norepinephrine to various environmental and genetic factors, University of Alabama researcher, Dr. Jarred Younger believes the condition stems from brain inflammation.
Younger, best known in the fibromyalgia community for his research on low-dose naltrexone (LDN), believes that low-level inflammation in the brain may be triggering an overreaction of the body’s immune system and, thus, be the cause of pain, fatigue, problems with thinking or memory, and depression.
Though Younger has developed over a dozen potential treatments for diagnosing and treating neuroinflammation, his research was at a standstill while trying to secure the needed grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH), a process that can take between 8 and ten years.
To bypass this red tape, Younger has taken matters in to his own hands and is in the early stages of creating a “fast-track clinical trial center” to test multiple treatments for fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Younger is relying on funding from donors to get the center up and running. He hopes this will cut the time it takes for a treatment to make it to public use down to just three years. Younger views the center as addressing the urgent, time-sensitive need for fibromyalgia research.
While raising $4 million is a tall order, Younger has already achieved some success in acquiring private funding as the primary researcher for two LDN/fibromyalgia studies at Stanford University. At regular doses, naltrexone is used to treat addiction to alcohol and certain opiate drugs. But at very low doses, it’s been found to reduce the symptoms of certain autoimmune and central nervous system conditions, including fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and others.
The Stanford studies found LDN to be more effective than the three drugs currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of fibromyalgia by suppressing the activity of immune cells in the brain that have become hypersensitized. This discovery assisted thousands of patients who wanted to try LDN as a treatment option in obtaining prescriptions from their physicians.
“If I had gone through NIH, there’s no way that information would be available to patients because I’d still be going through the phases of the trials,” Younger said.
To further his research efforts, Younger moved to UAB from Stanford in 2014 to open his Neuroinflammation, Pain and Fatigue Laboratory. One of the lab’s central focuses is addressing the fact that there is no tool currently available to measure low-level inflammation in the brain. Younger and his team are working on various neuroimaging techniques that would allow for safe and non-invasive testing.
Also in addition to more LDN-related studies, Younger plans to test other therapies, including luteolin, curcumin and dextromethorphan in fibromyalgia and ME/CFS patients. Hopefully, private funding will pull through so he can make headway.
“My goal for 2016 is raising funds to get the center started,” he said. “I think there are so many folks who will want to see this happen that we will be able to piece it together.”