How Close Are We To A Biomarker for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

For those who suffer chronic fatigue syndrome, the condition is hard enough, but the bigger difficulty comes from its impossibility.  It is estimated that approximately two million Americans suffer from the condition, plagued by unexpected and inexplicable pain, tiredness, dizziness, brain fog, and, oddly enough, poor sleep.  

And while doctors and experts have been able to characterize the condition, little has been known about its roots.  But a new study suggests that the condition is now easier to diagnose through something as simple as a blood test.

Lead study author Dr. Ron Davis reminds, “Too often, this disease is categorized as imaginary.”  A Stanford professor of biochemistry and genetics, Davis goes on to say, “All these different tests would normally guide the doctor towards one illness or another, but for chronic fatigue syndrome patients, the results all come back normal.”

Clinically called Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), the long-perplexing condition is still mysterious in its foundation.  We still do not know what causes or if there is a single effective treatment for it. But the new study can confirm, with nearly 100 percent accuracy, if you have it.  Essentially, a method of blood testing will always indicate ME/CFS in those who have it. 

Davis, again: “We don’t know exactly why the cells and plasma are acting this way, or even what they’re doing [but] we clearly see a difference in the way healthy and chronic fatigue syndrome immune cells process stress.”

While the findings are certainly remarkable, other experts caution the findings might simply indicate that we still have a quite a bit more to learn before we can simply identify a biomarker for Myalgic encephalomyelitis. This means that while the tests can certainly connect each ME/CFS patient, we are not quite at a point where it can be diagnosed with acceptable accuracy. 

For example, King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience chair of psychology Simon Wessely has worked with CFS patients.  He says that this study is just the latest attempt to identify a CFS biomarker, but two key obstacles remain.  He says, “The (first) issue is, can any biomarker distinguish CFS patients from those with other fatiguing illnesses? And second, is it measuring the cause, and not the consequence, of illness? This study does not provide any evidence that either has finally been achieved.”

The results of this study have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.