Morgellons Research Update September 2005
September 9, 2005
A few very preliminary results and observations on Morgellons research:
The goal of this research is to determine the cause of Morgellons Disease. At this point we do not know whether there are environmental or chemical toxins, allergens, or infectious agents involved, or even a combination of more than one of those. We are not pre-biasing the studies by making assumptions about the causative agent(s). The chemical analyses are looking for environmental contaminants, anything from heavy metals to organic chemicals. A possible role for infectious agents includes considering the possibility of infection by: insects, bacterial, fungi, nematode-like worms, parasites and viruses.
There are two widely discussed possible causes that are discussed on the internet extensively. These include an infection of the bacterium Stenotrophomonas maltophilia.and an infestation of the arthropod Collembola. Since these have been so widely discussed, they seemed likely logical starting points for part of the research and will be discussed below.
- Two primary types of bacteria have been cultured from skins samples of multiple Morgellons patients. The bacteria are of two types; a chain or 2-4 rod-shaped bacilli and tiny, spherical, cocci/diplococci. On solid media the cocci make a hard membrane-like coating over the colony. The liquid culture of bacilli usually contains a very stringy material after a few days of culturing. Some macroscopic fibers have appeared in these cultures, but it is unclear where they are coming from. We are trying to determine whether they are environmental contaminants or a product of the bacteria. It is also possible that the long fibers are nothing more than DNA from the dead bacteria. We are currently performing PCR (to amplify the microbial DNA) and DNA sequence analysis of both of these isolated bacteria. These results should be available by the end of September or early October.
- As mentioned above, Stenotrophomonas maltophilia.has been mentioned as a candidate, causative bacterium in Morgellons Disease. Amplification of DNA from the bacterial population isolated from the skin, scabs and shed material of the Morgellons patients and sequencing is still incomplete, although it will hopefully be completed during the next month or so. Bacterial isolates cultured from skin samples from four Morgellons patients residing in climatologically and geographically distinct areas of the United States have revealed no evidence of S. maltophilia thus far. Based on published reports, when S. maltophilia is cultured on blood agar plates there is a distinct flagellum (or multiple flagella) that is visible on the rod-shaped bacteria (bacilli). The bacilli that we have observed do not appear to be flagellated and are much longer than we would have expected for the characterized and published strains of S. maltophilia. They are also clustered in ways that do not look like the published images of S. maltophilia. DNA sequencing will give provide an answer as to whether this bacillus is present in Morgellons patients or not.
- The putative role of the arthropod Collembola in Morgellons disease. The paper by Altschuler, et al., (J. New York Entomol. Soc. 112(1):87–95, 2004) entitled, COLLEMBOLA (SPRINGTAILS) (ARTHROPODA: HEXAPODA: ENTOGNATHA) FOUND IN SCRAPINGS FROM INDIVIDUALS DIAGNOSED WITH DELUSORY PARASITOSIS, described evidence of Collembola in patients with symptoms resembling Morgellons disease. We decided to look at the molecular level for DNA evidence of Collembola in samples of skin, scabs and other shed material from Morgellons patients. To do this, PCR primers were synthesized that would amplify DNA from the cytochrome oxidase II gene from any of the 20 families and over 1,000 species of Collembola (Frati, et al., Evolution of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase II gene in Collembola, J. Mol. Evol., 1997). The PCR primers are designed as follows, as per the Frati, et al. paper:
When used in the PCR reaction, these primers are expected to amplify a 690 base pair fragment of DNA. Thus far, no DNA fragment has been amplified from the Morgellons samples. This suggests one of two likely scenarios:
1) that the samples contain no Collembola DNA for this gene, or
2) that the PCR is not working properly. To examine the 2nd possibility, PCR from a sample of old leaves, and a bit of soil has yielded an (approximately) 700 bp fragment of DNA as expected. This fragment of DNA will be sequenced in the near future. If it is a Collembolan species, then the PCR is working and it suggests that the samples isolated from Morgellons patients, thus far, do not contain Collembola DNA, and hence, these Morgellons patients symptoms are not from Collembola. More unrelated tissue samples from other patients will be assayed for Collembola DNA in the future.
There are 4 other areas of research that are ongoing or will be carried out during the upcoming months, and being carried out at laboratories in Oklahoma, California and Italy. These are 1) a more detailed spectroscopic and microscopic analysis of the Morgellons fibers, 2) assaying of material from Morgellons patients for modified amino acid neurotoxins, 3) chemical analysis of the Morgellons fibers to determine the chemical composition and presence of unusual organic compounds and heavy metals and 4) analysis of tissue samples at the nano-molecular level to screen for foreign material that could be involved in Morgellons disease.
This research briefing is not meant to be overly interpreted or viewed in any way as conclusive. It is an interim report on the status of the research and nothing more. When there is firm, incontrovertible data, it will be presented as such. For now, this is to let Morgellons patients, family, friends and health-care providers know that there is organized, systematic research being performed and where the research stands.
All of this research is being conducted through the efforts of the Morgellons Research Foundation, with no funding support from either the federal government or any pharmaceutical or biotechnology corporations. None of the researchers associated with the Morgellons Research Foundation have received any salary from the Foundation. All of the research to date has been performed as a community service and a desire to help the sufferers of Morgellons Disease. The experiments needed to systematically research this disease are both time-consuming and expensive. The seemingly slow progress of the research is not by intent or inattentiveness; it is due to the time-consuming nature of the experiments themselves, and limited availability of research personnel and funding. The goal of this research is not mere intellectual curiosity. The goal is to identify (conclusively) the cause(s) of Morgellons Disease. Once the causative agent(s) are identified, therapies can be devised to treat and ultimately cure Morgellons Disease.
Randy S. Wymore, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Pharmacology & Physiology
Oklahoma State University
Center for Health Sciences and
College of Osteopathic Medicine
1111 W. 17th St.
Tulsa, OK 74107