Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a rare disease which causes, most notably, persistent fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest. It is also sometimes referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or ME/CFS. Besides fatigue, the illness can cause muscle/joint pain, dizziness, bowel dysfunction, depression, headaches, problems sleeping, swollen lymph nodes, low stamina, light sensitivity, fever, and cognition issues. CFS can affect a multitude of the body’s processes including the immune system, gastrointestinal system, and the hormone system in addition to the brain and the heart. The severity of these symptoms, in addition to which symptoms present, can vary for each patient over time.
CFS can impose severe lifestyle restrictions caused by the extreme fatigue and patients can face difficulty holding a job or even doing normal tasks. It affects people of all sexes and ages, but it does tend to affect women more than men.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding CFS as there is no way to diagnose it besides an evaluation of symptoms. Patients are sometimes told “it’s all in your head.”
Since there have been no known biomarkers of the disease, CFS has been diagnosed purely based on an evaluation of the patient experience. However, many physicians treat this disease with skepticism due to the lack of biomarkers and symptoms being “vague.” Patients are accused of imagining their disease. All other potential conditions must be fully ruled out before a patient is diagnosed with CFS. But for some physicians, when tests keep coming back as normal, they become more convinced that there’s nothing wrong instead of more convinced that what their patient has is rare.
For this reason, and an overall lack of education concerning this disease, it’s believed that CFS is extremely underdiagnosed.
Current treatment is simply symptomatic, focusing on pain management, diet changes, antidepressants, cognitive therapy, physical therapy, and avoiding overexertion.
A New Study
Stanford University researchers, led by Ron Davis, have been evaluating a blood test utilizing a nanoelectronic assay which they believe could be used to accurately diagnose CFS and clear up any doubt about the existence of this condition. For Davis, it’s personal, as his own son suffers from the condition.
Essentially, the blood test evaluates how immune cells respond to stress. Researchers sent currents into plasma samples, eliciting a response from the immune cells. Their pilot study included 40 individuals. 20 had diagnoses of CFS and 20 were healthy individuals. Those with CFS had clear spikes, showcasing that their immune cells were unable to adequately process the stress they were put under. While the researchers are still unsure why the cells of those with CFS are responding so poorly to the stress, this test, without question, shows that CFS exists. There was a clear difference in response between those with CFS and those who were healthy and the test did not make any incorrect CFS diagnosis in any of the healthy participants.
Not only does this provide full proof that CFS exists, but it should significantly improve the rate of diagnosis for patients, and ultimately the care they receive.
They next plan to utilize this test to evaluate potential therapies for CFS. Essentially, the researchers can add a dose of a drug to the blood sample of a patient and then run the nanoelectronic assay again. If it is an effective treatment, it would reduce the response of the immune cells. In fact, they believe they’ve already uncovered a promising drug that could restore function of the immune cells. While they’ve yet to release the name of this medication, they have stated that it is a medication already approved by the FDA. This is fortunate because it would significantly speed up the approval process if clinical trials for the drug continue to show its promise. The researchers hope to begin this clinical trial soon.
Currently, they also are recruiting more individuals to test the diagnostic capabilities of the nanoelectronic assay in a larger sample size.
The results from this study have been published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
You can read more about this study and the impact it could have on present and future CFS patients here.