US researchers have found that people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) have a specific chemical signature in their blood.
Doctors say the discovery is a significant breakthrough and paves the way for better diagnosis and a treatment of the misunderstood condition.
Ground-breaking research at Griffith University in Brisbane had already made a similar find and researchers there are now leading the way for the development of a new screening tool for the condition.
The research team from the National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases (NCNED), Menzies Health Institute Queensland, is now looking to partner with diagnostic companies to bring a test to market. The screening test is expected to benefit all those with symptoms of the condition.
“Over the last four years, with support from the Queensland Government and philanthropic donors, we have identified unique markers in CFS patients,” says Professor Marshall-Gradisnik.
“This screening test may be expected to become a laboratory standard to provide more certain, and cost-efficient, diagnosis for CFS. Currently patients may be undergoing a range of tests to diagnose for CFS which incurs a significant cost to the health care system.
The illness blights the lives of an estimated 400,000 Australians, many of whom are told that it’s all in their mind.
Symptoms of CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), include extreme physical and mental fatigue and painful limbs.
Chronic fatigue can also affect memory, concentration and digestion, with some sufferers so weak they lose their job, or become bed or wheelchair-bound.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, analysed blood samples taken from 45 people with CFS and 39 healthy individuals of the same age, reports the Daily Mail.
This revealed a distinct set of chemical changes that were only present in the blood of those with chronic fatigue.
In many of the cases, key bodily chemicals were present in lower levels than normal.
Lead researcher Robert Naviaux said something similar happens when animals dial down their metabolism to hibernate.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he said the blood test is more than 90 per cent accurate in spotting people with the condition.
He hopes his work will lead to new treatments, as well as providing patients with a quicker route to diagnosis.
“CFS is a very challenging disease. It affects multiple systems of the body,” he said.
“Symptoms vary and are common to many other diseases.
“There is no diagnostic laboratory test and patients may spend years trying to get a correct diagnosis.
“This work opens a fresh path to both understanding the biology of CFS and, more importantly to patients, a robust, rational way to develop new therapeutics for a disease sorely in need of them.”