Research: Diagnostic test could offer new hope for ME/CFS patients

April 14, 2022


Nuffield Department of Women's and Reproductive Health Medical Sciences Division
Press Release 13 April 2022

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis /Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a chronic condition without a diagnostic test and some 80 – 90% of patients remain un-diagnosed. A new paper published in Frontiers in Medicine outlines how having a diagnostic test could greatly help both patients and medics.

  • The ME Association Ramsay Research Fund provided the grant for this research. It is a rather complicated study to try and understand, so we have produced summary information below this press release.

ME/CFS is a devastating disease that affects over 250,0001 individuals in the UK, yet there is no reliable biomarker and diagnosis is based on manifesting clinical symptoms, coupled with high inter-patient variability. 

Developing an early diagnostic test is of fundamental importance in the treatment of any illness. In ME/CFS a diagnostic test would help not only  in the clinical management of patients and but give patients hope that we are moving closer to understanding a condition which is currently is very much a mystery illness.

UUsing modern statistical approaches and machine learning Dr Karl Morten in collaboration with Professor Elisa Oltra (Universidad Catolica de Valencia San Vicente Martir – UCV) have identified a series of variables including the micro RNA’s of blood cells and small extracellular vesicles which can distinguish a group of severe ME/CFS patients from healthy controls with 100% accuracy.

Dr Karl Morten

These two groups cannot be readily separated by a standard blood test. Standard tests return as negative for the severely ill group. Their next step is to apply this approach to mild and moderately affected ME/CFS patients with different levels of disability and compare to other disease groups as well as healthy controls. This will determine if we have a potential panel of biomarkers which could be used to developed a diagnostic test. 

ME Association Comment from Katrina Pears

This research was funded by a grant from the ME Association Ramsay Research Fund using samples from the ME/CFS Biobank and I was involved in proof-reading the final draft before it was published. The purpose of this research is to work towards finding a diagnostic blood test or biomarker. 

The study employed a large range of statistical tests to help differentiate  between severe ME/CFS and healthy controls. The researchers looked at over 800 different components in the blood, reducing these to 32, with a particular focus on extracellular vesicles and microRNA.

During their invesitgations the researchers found abnormalities in these plasma components in patients with severe ME/CFS compared to healthy controls, which hopefully could be investigated further to find a diagnostic tool. There are a lot of complex terms in the paper, a brief summary of these is as follows: 

  • Extracellular vesicles are nanosized, membrane-bound particles which are naturally released from almost all types of cells. They can transport other molecules, such as DNA, RNA and proteins between cells as part of intracellular communication, particularly in immune system response. 
  • MircroRNAs (miRNA) are single-stranded non-coding RNA molecules which help regulate various biological processes including energy metabolism and immune system responses. 
  • Raman Spectroscopy is a laboratory analysis technique, and can for example provide information on chemical structure and molecular interactions. It is based upon the interaction of light with the chemical bonds within a material. 
  • Partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) is a statistical method which is used to find the relationship between two variables. 

The findings of this study were limited by the small sample size, but the researchers hope to take these findings further, especially looking at the mechanisms involved in extracellular vesicles and microRNA. Furthermore, this is the second paper we have reported on recently looking at extracellular vesicles. We have also discussed this study on ME Association Facebook where it attracted some good comments:

Dr Katrina Pears
MEA Research Correspondent

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