People that suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome might feel some relief just knowing that biomarkers have now been associated with this mysterious illness. Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, there is no cure for ME/CFS and there are few treatment options, none of which are reliably effective. A new report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has now connected the illness with 17 proteins that act as messengers for the immune system, cytokines.
This research suggests that inflammation has a role in the disorder, which can become a chronic condition. Performed by scientists at Stanford University, the diagnosis and characterization of ME/CFS may now be easier, and people no longer have to doubt whether it is a real condition.
"There's been a great deal of controversy and confusion surrounding ME/CFS - even whether it is an actual disease," noted the senior author of the work, Dr. Mark Davis, the Director of Stanford's Institute for Immunity, Transplantation, and Infection. "Our findings show clearly that it's an inflammatory disease and provide a solid basis for a diagnostic blood test."
ME/CFS can flare in the teenage years, and come back when a person is in their 30’s, said the researchers. It impacts over 1 million individuals in the United States alone, and more women than men are affected.
"Chronic fatigue syndrome can turn a life of productive activity into one of dependency and desolation," commented the lead author of the report, Dr. Jose Montoya, a Professor of Infectious Diseases. While some individuals get over the illness in a year or so without treatment, other are sick for decades.
Rest doesn’t relieve the extreme tiredness brought on by the disease, and more health problems can develop. Often, people end up having flu-like symptoms. They can go on to experience diarrhea, constipation, heart dysfunction, or muscle pain. The variation and range of symptoms can confound diagnosis.
"I have seen the horrors of this disease, multiplied by hundreds of patients," Montoya said. "It's been observed and talked about for 35 years now, sometimes with the onus of being described as a psychological condition. But chronic fatigue syndrome is by no means a figment of the imagination. This is real."
For this study, blood samples from 192 ME/CFS patients with varying degrees of disease severity and 392 healthy people were assessed. The levels of 51 cytokines were assayed. 17 of those were linked to how bad the disease was, while 13 o the cytokines promote inflammation - exacerbating the illness. The findings are outlined in the video.
Women carry one of those proteins more often than men, which could explain why they get the disease more. This new work can hopefully bring help to people long-suffering with little relief.
"For decades, the 'case vs. healthy controls' study design has served well to advance our understanding of many diseases," Montoya explained. "However, it's possible that for certain pathologies in humans, analysis by disease severity or duration would be likely to provide further insights."
NPR reports that a major study evaluating the effect of an anti-inflammatory drug on ME/CFS is underway in Norway. The drug, rituximab, is already used to treat people with some auto-immune disorders.