New ME/CFS highlight notice issued by the UK Medical Research Council | 23 July 2012

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has put out a new call for ME/CFS research applications in a revised ‘highlight notice’ that went up on its website today (23 July 2012).

The notice says that the MRC wants to receive bids for projects that were not well-covered in the last funding round – which resulted in £1.6m being awarded to five projects just before Christmas last year. The lion’s share went to two studies at the University of Newcastle, where lead investigators Dr Wan Ng and Professor Julia Newton received over £900,000 between them.

“Some areas considered important and tractable for research by the MRC CFS/ME Expert Group (chaired by Professor Stephen Holgate), and highlighted in that call, were not well covered in the funded applications. These are highlighted below, alongside the other call topics, and now our Research Boards would particularly welcome applications in these areas,” the notice says.

Areas that will be considered are:

Immune dysregulation: There is evidence for a disturbance in innate and adaptive immunity in CFS/ME including alterations in cytokine profile, absolute and functional alterations in T cells and NK cells and occurrence of autoantibodies and allergic reactions that may explain some of the manifestations such as fatigue and flu-like symptoms. A number of infectious and environmental exposures have been associated as triggering these changes.

Pain: Headache, facial pain and myalgia are reported symptoms of CFS/ME that may involve altered sensory and/or cognitive processing in the relevant neural pathways.

Improved sub-phenotyping and stratification of CFS/ME: CFS/ME is often considered a broad spectrum disorder or syndrome and, as in other disease areas, it may be that the causes and mechanisms underpinning diverse symptom profiles are different. Better patient phenotyping and stratification could provide valuable new insights into the natural history of the disease and enable the development of more effective, better targeted treatments.

Mechanisms of CFS/ME in children: The manifestations of CFS/ME in children represent a major clinical management challenge. There is a need for research aimed at improving understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the early onset of the disease; this knowledge can then be used for the development and evaluation of new treatment options, as a prelude to their assessment in large-scale clinical trials.

Neuropathology: There is now preliminary evidence supporting the view that inflammatory mechanisms in the brain and spinal cord may underlie the pathophysiology of some severe disease CFS/ME phenotypes. Biobanks are now becoming available and create a unique opportunity for interrogation.

The MRC explains in its notice that it is hoping to tease out applications from investigators new to the field of ME/CFS studies as well as wanting to help established investigators build up their own ME/CFS research portfolios. The organisation also wants to encourage partnerships with other funders.

And this time the notice is ‘cross-board’ – which means that applications can be sent to any of the MRC’s four main Research Boards. They are (1) the Infections and Immunity Board, (2) the Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board, (3) the Neurosciences and Mental Health Board and (4) the Population and Systems Medicines Board.


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