SCIENTISTS from the North East have showcased their pioneering work into examining the biological causes of the debilitating condition ME.
Yesterday experts from Newcastle University were in London to discuss their studies at the launch of a new national collaboration to improve understanding and treatment of the illness.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as ME, which stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis, causes persistent exhaustion that affects everyday life and does not go away with sleep or rest.
It affects more than 600,000 people in the UK and can affect children, but its cause is poorly understood and treatments are limited.
The UK CFS/ME Research Collaborative (UK CMRC) is a new initiative led by the country’s leading experts in the field to expand medical studies into this complex set of disorders by using greater expertise and improve co-ordination of wide-ranging research activities.
At the launch of the collaboration at Science Media Centre in London, Prof Julia Newton outlined three new studies that are taking place in Newcastle following a £1m Medical Research Council grant to focus on the mechanisms and underlying biological processes involved in the illness.
Prof Newton, a clinical professor of ageing and medicine at Newcastle University and a consultant at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, said: “I believe the North East is leading the way in research as Newcastle is way ahead in a number of areas in understanding chronic fatigue syndrome.
“There has been a problem with doctors and clinicians not recognising the severity of the symptoms and a perception that it is a psychological illness.
“But over the last decade things have improved and there have been scientific advances that suggest there are biological reasons as to why people develop chronic fatigue syndrome and it is not all in the mind.”
The first study involves examining whether the drug Rituximab could be used as a medicine in order to understand more about fatigue mechanisms.
Rituximab is successful in treating rheumatoid arthritis, some cancers and the profound fatigue experienced by patients with an immune liver disease known as primary biliary cirrhosis.
The second trial is aimed at exploring why people with CFS/ME have low blood pressure and whether this could be a target for treatment.
This work includes studies involving newly-developed MRI techniques to examine the muscle, brain and hearts of patients. In addition, further laboratory studies will involve growing muscle cells from CFS/ME patients and examining their reaction to exercise.
The third study lead by Dr Fai Ng at Newcastle University explores the role inflammation might play in the symptoms of fatigue.
Prof Newton said: “The UK CFS/ME Research Collaborative is an opportunity for us to showcase the range of important work being performed in Newcastle that focuses upon understanding the biological basis of this disease.
“The ultimate goal is to develop treatments that will address the chronic and debilitating symptoms that affect people with this condition.
“In five years’ time I would hope that we would be beginning to explore the treatment options available for people with chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Patients who are affected by the condition and want to find out more can visit the ME/CFS Research Newcastle Facebook page.