Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) seems to affect the immune systems of healthy people, those diagnosed with the disease recently and those suffering for it from a long time, mentioned a new study published on Feb. 27(Friday) in Science Advances. Though these findings may form the basis of the first diagnostic test for the illness, though they do not have immediate clinical applications for patients.
The study was published in the online journal barely two weeks after the CFS had been given a new name, “systemic exertion intolerance disease” by the Institute of Medicine, while also introducing new diagnostic criteria to better identify patients.
Lead author Mady Hornig, M.D, and director of Translational Research at the Jerome L. and Dawn Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, says that the findings of this study help reaffirm that the CFS is caused due to a malfunctioning immune system.
“A biomarker has been the goal for much of the research for the last 15 years, so it’s really excellent that they have found something they consider significant,” said Dr. Birgitta Evengard, a professor of clinical microbiology at Umea University in Sweden and an expert on the illness.
The research team comprising of scientists from Columbia, Stanford and Harvard tested the blood of 298 people affected with the CFS and 348 healthy people who helped serve as the control group. 51 cytokines, that is substances that function as messengers for the immune system, were tested on the blood of all these 646 people. The team could not find any significant differences between two groups while comparing all the patients with all healthy controls.
However, after they divided these people into groups consisting of people who had been sick for less than three years and those who had been sick for longer, sharp differences were seen, thee findings also being very different from those in healthy people.
“There are biological markers that can be detected in the blood soon after the onset of the disease, and this has very important diagnostic implications,” said Dr. Mady Hornig, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University and lead author of the new study.
At present, we do not know what exactly triggers off this syndrome and the treatments are directed towards symptom relief. By the end of the year, the team will study the changes caused by each of these individual cytokines.