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author:("nacu, Luis")
1.  Considerations in establishing a post-mortem brain and tissue bank for the study of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: a proposed protocol 
BMC Research Notes  2014;7:370.
Our aim, having previously investigated through a qualitative study involving extensive discussions with experts and patients the issues involved in establishing and maintaining a disease specific brain and tissue bank for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), was to develop a protocol for a UK ME/CFS repository of high quality human tissue from well characterised subjects with ME/CFS and controls suitable for a broad range of research applications. This would involve a specific donor program coupled with rapid tissue collection and processing, supplemented by comprehensive prospectively collected clinical, laboratory and self-assessment data from cases and controls.
We reviewed the operations of existing tissue banks from published literature and from their internal protocols and standard operating procedures (SOPs). On this basis, we developed the protocol presented here, which was designed to meet high technical and ethical standards and legal requirements and was based on recommendations of the MRC UK Brain Banks Network. The facility would be most efficient and cost-effective if incorporated into an existing tissue bank. Tissue collection would be rapid and follow robust protocols to ensure preservation sufficient for a wide range of research uses. A central tissue bank would have resources both for wide-scale donor recruitment and rapid response to donor death for prompt harvesting and processing of tissue.
An ME/CFS brain and tissue bank could be established using this protocol. Success would depend on careful consideration of logistic, technical, legal and ethical issues, continuous consultation with patients and the donor population, and a sustainable model of funding ideally involving research councils, health services, and patient charities. This initiative could revolutionise the understanding of this still poorly-understood disease and enhance development of diagnostic biomarkers and treatments.
PMCID: PMC4076507  PMID: 24938650
Chronic fatigue syndrome; ME/CFS; Ethical issues; Participatory research; Tissue banks; Tissue donors
2.  Health needs assessment for congenital anomalies in middle-income countries: Examining the case for neural tube defects in Brazil 
Journal of Community Genetics  2013;5(2):147-155.
Recent economic improvement in Brazil has been reflected in better maternal–child health indicators, with decreases in infant and perinatal mortality. However, under-five mortality due to congenital disorders remained unchanged, and congenital disorders have become the second leading cause of infant mortality. In the present study, we used the PHG Foundation Health Needs Assessment (HNA) Toolkit with the objective of first assessing the burden of disease caused by neural tube defects (NTDs) in Brazil and the impact of interventions already put in place to address the burden, and second to evaluate and prioritize further interventions and policies required for its prevention and treatment. The results from these two components of the HNA process are described in this paper. The published literature was reviewed to identify studies of NTDs (prevalence; morbidity; prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal mortality; treatment or prevention). Data on indicators of maternal and child health were obtained directly from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, through the online Live Births Information System (SINASC) and from the Mortality Information System (SIM). Descriptive analyses included reports of the rates of NTD in liveborns, fetal, and infant deaths. Differences between folic acid flour pre-fortification (2001–2004) and post-fortification (2006–2010) periods were expressed as prevalence rate ratios. Around 20 % of fetal deaths were related to congenital disorders with approximately 5 % of those being NTDs. For infant mortality, congenital disorders were notified in approximately 15 % of cases, with NTDs present in 10 % of the malformed children. Although statistically significant, the prevalence rate ratio (PRR) for spina bifida in live births was only 0.937 (95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.884–0.994), a decrease of 6.3 % when comparing the pre and post-fortification periods. The impact of fortification seemed to be more visible in fetal deaths due to anencephaly (PRR = 0.727, 95 % CI 0.681–0.777) and for spina bifida (PRR = 0.700, 95 % CI 0.507–0.967) with associated decreases of 27.3 and 30 %. The lower impact of folic acid fortification in Brazil, compared to other Latin-American countries, can be due to differences in dietary habits, concentration of folic acid in flour, as well as characteristic population ethnic composition. The HNA led to the identification of the needs to be addressed in Brazil, including the improvement of reporting congenital disorders within the nationwide birth certification system, and revision of the policy of flour folic acid fortification.
PMCID: PMC3955461  PMID: 23990401
Neural tube defects; Folic acid fortification; Brazil; Health Needs Assessment
3.  The use of a Toolkit for health needs assessment on neural tube defects in Argentina 
Journal of Community Genetics  2012;4(1):77-86.
Health needs assessment (HNA) is a commonly used process for those working in public health. The PHG Foundation has developed a Toolkit to provide users with a stepwise approach for undertaking a HNA on birth defects. We report the findings from using the Toolkit to examine needs in relation to policies and programs, services, and interventions for neural tube defects (NTDs) in Argentina. The trend over the last few decades is one of decline in infant mortality from nutritional and infectious causes, thus further increasing the relative importance of birth defects. The observed prevalence of NTDs is consistent with that reported internationally. Since 2002 folic acid fortification (FAF) has been mandatory by law, and different studies have shown at least a 50 % decrease in the birth prevalence of NTDs after FAF. In Argentina, there is inequity between the public and non-public health sectors. The birth prevalence of NTDs seems lower in the non-public sector, possibly as a result of better nutritional status of women, higher access to folic acid supplementation, and earlier prenatal diagnosis followed by termination of pregnancy (ToP) in non-public hospitals. Although illegal, ToP is believed to be widespread, with better access for people of higher socioeconomic status. Through the process of HNA, we identified several unmet needs regarding registration of cases, public and professional education, legislation, and organization of care pathways. In our experience, the Toolkit brought together people working on the same issue, and it engaged and motivated experts and stakeholders to work together to tackle the problem.
PMCID: PMC3537973  PMID: 23055101
Health needs assessment; Argentina; Neural tube defects; Health services; Interventions
4.  Social support needs for equity in health and social care: a thematic analysis of experiences of people with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis 
Needs-based resource allocation is fundamental to equitable care provision, which can meet the often-complex, fluctuating needs of people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). This has posed challenges both for those providing and those seeking support providers, in building shared understanding of the condition and of actions to address it. This qualitative study reports on needs for equity in health and social care expressed by adults living with CFS/ME.
The participants were 35 adults with CFS/ME in England, purposively selected to provide variation in clinical presentations, social backgrounds and illness experiences. Accounts of experienced needs and needs-related encounters with health and social services were obtained through a focus group (n = 6) and semi-structured interviews (n = 35). These were transcribed and needs related topics identified through data-led thematic analysis.
Participants emphasised needs for personalised, timely and sustained support to alleviate CFS/ME impacts and regain life control, in three thematic areas: (1) Illness symptoms, functional limitations and illness management; (2) practical support and social care; (3) financial support. Access of people with CFS/ME to support from health and social services was seen to be constrained by barriers stemming from social, cultural, organisational and professional norms and practices, further heightened for disadvantaged groups including some ethnic minorities. These reduced opportunities for their illness to be explained or associated functional limitations and social disadvantages to be addressed through social support. Participants sought more understanding of bio-psycho-social aspects of CFS/ME, of felt needs of people with CFS/ME and of human rights and disability rights, for providing person-centred, equitable care.
Changes in attitudes of health practitioners, policy makers and general public and more flexibly organised health and social care provision are needed to address equity issues in support needs expressed by people with CFS/ME, to be underpinned by research-based knowledge and communication, for public and professional education. Policy development should include shared decision-making and coordinated action across organizations working for people with CFS/ME, human rights and disadvantaged groups. Experiences of people with CFS/ME can usefully inform an understanding of equity in their health and social care.
PMCID: PMC3229491  PMID: 22044797
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis; thematic analysis; social support; experiences; recognition; social welfare
5.  Prevalence of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in three regions of England: a repeated cross-sectional study in primary care 
BMC Medicine  2011;9:91.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been used to name a range of chronic conditions characterized by extreme fatigue and other disabling symptoms. Attempts to estimate the burden of disease have been limited by selection bias, and by lack of diagnostic biomarkers and of agreed reproducible case definitions. We estimated the prevalence and incidence of ME/CFS in three regions in England, and discussed the implications of frequency statistics and the use of different case definitions for health and social care planning and for research.
We compared the clinical presentation, prevalence and incidence of ME/CFS based on a sample of 143,000 individuals aged 18 to 64 years, covered by primary care services in three regions of England. Case ascertainment involved: 1) electronic search for chronic fatigue cases; 2) direct questioning of general practitioners (GPs) on cases not previously identified by the search; and 3) clinical review of identified cases according to CDC-1994, Canadian and Epidemiological Case (ECD) Definitions. This enabled the identification of cases with high validity.
The estimated minimum prevalence rate of ME/CFS was 0.2% for cases meeting any of the study case definitions, 0.19% for the CDC-1994 definition, 0.11% for the Canadian definition and 0.03% for the ECD. The overall estimated minimal yearly incidence was 0.015%. The highest rates were found in London and the lowest in East Yorkshire. All but one of the cases conforming to the Canadian criteria also met the CDC-1994 criteria, however presented higher prevalence and severity of symptoms.
ME/CFS is not uncommon in England and represents a significant burden to patients and society. The number of people with chronic fatigue who do not meet specific criteria for ME/CFS is higher still. Both groups have high levels of need for service provision, including health and social care. We suggest combining the use of both the CDC-1994 and Canadian criteria for ascertainment of ME/CFS cases, alongside careful clinical phenotyping of study participants. This combination if used systematically will enable international comparisons, minimization of bias, and the identification and investigation of distinct sub-groups of patients with possibly distinct aetiologies and pathophysiologies, standing a better chance of translation into effective specific treatments.
PMCID: PMC3170215  PMID: 21794183
6.  The functional status and well being of people with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and their carers 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:402.
Diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome or ME/CFS is largely based on clinical history, and exclusion of identifiable causes of chronic fatigue. Characterization of cases and the impact of interventions have been limited due to clinical heterogeneity and a lack of reliable biomarkers for diagnosis and outcome measures. People with ME/CFS (PWME) often report high levels of disability, which are difficult to measure objectively. The well being of family members and those who care for PWME are also likely to be affected. This study aimed to investigate the functional status and well being of PWME and their lay carers, and to compare them with people with other chronic conditions.
We used a cross sectional design to study 170 people aged between 18 and 64 years with well characterized ME/CFS, and 44 carers, using SF-36 v2™. Mean physical and mental domains scores (scales and component summaries) were calculated and compared internally and externally with reference standards for the general population and for population groups with 10 chronic diseases.
SF-36 scores in PWME were significantly reduced, especially within the physical domain (mean norm-based Physical Component Summary (PCS) score = 26.8), but also within the mental domain (mean norm-based score for Mental Component Summary (MCS) = 34.1). The lowest and highest scale scores were for "Role-Physical" (mean = 25.4) and "Mental Health" (mean = 36.7) respectively. All scores were in general lower than those for the general population and diseased-specific norms for other diseases. Carers of those with ME/CFS tended to have low scores in relation to population norms, particularly within the mental domain (mean = 45.4).
ME/CFS is disabling and has a greater impact on functional status and well being than other chronic diseases such as cancer. The emotional burden of ME/CFS is felt by lay carers as well as by people with ME/CFS. We suggest the use of generic instruments such as SF-36, in combination of other objective outcome measurements, to describe patients and assess treatments.
PMCID: PMC3123211  PMID: 21619607
7.  A Disease Register for ME/CFS: Report of a Pilot Study 
BMC Research Notes  2011;4:139.
The ME/CFS Disease Register is one of six subprojects within the National ME/CFS Observatory, a research programme funded by the Big Lottery Fund and sponsored by Action for ME. A pilot study in East Anglia, East Yorkshire, and London aimed to address the problem of identifying representative groups of subjects for research, in order to be able to draw conclusions applicable to the whole ME/CFS population.
While not aiming for comprehensive population coverage, this pilot register sought to recruit participants with ME/CFS in an unbiased way from a large population base. Those recruited are constituting a cohort for long-term follow-up to shed light on prognosis, and a sampling frame for other studies.
Patients with unidentified chronic fatigue were identified in GP databases using a READ-code based algorithm, and conformity to certain case definitions for ME/CFS determined. 29 practices, covering a population aged 18 to 64 of 143,153, participated.
510 patients with unexplained chronic fatigue were identified. 265 of these conformed to one or more case definitions. 216 were invited to join the register; 160 agreed. 96.9% of participants conformed to the CDC 1994 (Fukuda) definition; the Canadian definition defined more precisely a subset of these. The addition of an epidemiological case definition increased case ascertainment by approximately 4%. A small-scale study in a specialist referral service in East Anglia was also undertaken.
There was little difference in pattern of conformity to case definitions, age or sex among disease register participants compared with subjects in a parallel epidemiological study who declined to participate.
One-year follow-up of 50 subjects showed little change in pain or fatigue scores. There were some changes in conformity to case definitions.
Objective evaluation indicated that the aim of recruiting participants with ME/CFS to a Disease Register had been fulfilled, and confirmed the feasibility of our approach to case identification, data processing, transmission, storage, and analysis. Future developments should include expansion of the ME/CFS Register and its linkage to a tissue sample bank and post mortem tissue archive, to facilitate support for further research studies.
PMCID: PMC3118997  PMID: 21554673
8.  Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) in adults: a qualitative study of perspectives from professional practice 
BMC Family Practice  2010;11:89.
Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) can cause profound and prolonged illness and disability, and poses significant problems of uncertainty for healthcare professionals in its diagnosis and management. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore the nature of professional 'best practice' in working with people with CFS/ME.
The views and experiences of health care practitioners (HCPs) were sought, who had been judged by people with CFS/ME themselves to have been particularly helpful and effective. Qualitative semi-structured interviews following a topic guide were carried out with six health care practitioners. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and subject to thematic analysis.
Five main themes were developed: 1) Diagnosis; 2) Professional perspectives on living with CFS/ME; 3) Interventions for treatment and management; 4) Professional values and support for people with CFS/ME and their families; 5) Health professional roles and working practices. Key findings related to: the diagnostic process, especially the degree of uncertainty which may be shared by primary care physicians and patients alike; the continued denial in some quarters of the existence of CFS/ME as a condition; the variability, complexity, and serious impact of the condition on life and living; the onus on the person with CFS/ME to manage their condition, supported by HCPs; the wealth of often conflicting and confusing information on the condition and options for treatment; and the vital role of extended listening and trustful relationships with patients.
While professional frustrations were clearly expressed about the variability of services both in primary and specialist care and continuing equivocal attitudes to CFS/ME as a condition, there were also strong positive messages for people with CFS/ME where the right services are in place. Many of the findings from these practitioners seen by their patients as helping them more effectively, accord with the existing literature identifying the particular importance of listening skills, respect and trust for establishing a therapeutic relationship which recognises key features of the patient trajectory and promotes effective person-centred management of this complex condition. These findings indicate the need to build such skills and knowledge more systematically into professional training informed by the experience of specialist services and those living with the condition.
PMCID: PMC2994803  PMID: 21078171
9.  The expressed needs of people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis: A systematic review 
BMC Public Health  2009;9:458.
We aimed to review systematically the needs for support in managing illness and maintaining social inclusion expressed by people with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME)
We carried out a systematic review of primary research and personal ('own') stories expressing the needs of people with CFS/ME. Structured searches were carried out on Medline, AMED, CINAHL, EMBASE, ASSIA, CENTRAL, and other health, social and legal databases from inception to November 2007. Study inclusion, data extraction and risk of bias were assessed independently in duplicate. Expressed needs were tabulated and a conceptual framework developed through an iterative process.
Thirty two quantitative and qualitative studies, including the views of over 2500 people with CFS/ME with mainly moderate or severe illness severity, met the inclusion criteria. The following major support needs emerged: 1) The need to make sense of symptoms and gain diagnosis, 2) for respect and empathy from service providers, 3) for positive attitudes and support from family and friends, 4) for information on CFS/ME, 5) to adjust views and priorities, 6) to develop strategies to manage impairments and activity limitations, and 7) to develop strategies to maintain/regain social participation.
Although the studies were heterogeneous, there was consistent evidence that substantial support is needed to rebuild lives. Gaining support depends - most importantly - on the ability of providers of health and social care, colleagues, friends and relatives, and those providing educational and leisure services, to understand and respond to those needs.
PMCID: PMC2799412  PMID: 20003363
10.  Model for estimating the population prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: cross sectional data from the Health Survey for England 
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major but neglected public health problem. Currently 1.4% of the England population has a clinical diagnosis of COPD, but the true burden of the disease has not been known with certainty, as many cases remain undiagnosed.
A mathematical model based on cross sectional data from a representative sample of the population in England (the Heath Survey for England 2001, n = 10,750) was developed allowing estimates on the prevalence of COPD (defined based on the presence of airflow obstruction) to be obtained. Logistic regression analysis was used to investigate and choose risk factors for inclusion in the model and to derive the prevalence estimates based on the strength of association between selected risk factors and the outcome COPD. The model allows the prevalence to be estimated in populations at national level and also at regional and large local areas, based on their compositions according to age, sex, smoking and ethnicity, and on area degrees of urbanisation and deprivation. We applied the model to measure the prevalence of COPD in England and in some sub-groups of the population within the country.
The prevalence of COPD in England is estimated as 3.1% (3.9% in men and 2.4% in women) in the population over 15 years of age, and 5.3% (6.8% in men and 3.9% in women) in 45 year-olds and over. There was a 7-fold variation in the prevalence across subgroups of the population, with lowest values in Asian women from wealthy rural areas (1.7%), and highest in black men from deprived urban areas (12.5%).
The model can be used to estimate population prevalence of COPD from large general practices to national level, and as a tool to identify areas of high levels of unmet needs for COPD priority health actions. The results from the model highlight the importance of including variables other than age, sex and smoking, i.e. levels of deprivation, urbanisation and ethnicity, when estimating population prevalence of COPD. The model should be validated at local level and incorporated into case-finding strategies.
PMCID: PMC2099421  PMID: 17897444

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