Medical Matters > Immune system research at the ME Biobank

ME Essential Autumn 2017

Question

I saw a report on the MEA website in June about Professor Eleanor Riley presenting some findings from a Biobank immune system study to an ME/CFS research conference in Chicago. Please could you tell us something about the immunological studies that are being carried out at the Biobank?

Answer

The immune system research at the ME Biobank is being funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in America – the US equivalent of the UK Medical Research Council. The NIH funded study has been looking at a number of different factors that appear to be involved in the causation of ME/CFS. These include immune system function (natural killer/NK cells), virology (the role of cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus and human herpes virus type 6 infection) and gene expression (an assessment of how genes are controlling things like immune system function).

It is looking at how these aspects of ME/CFS change over a period of time – not just on one occasion. The study is based on the hypothesis that ME/CFS is associated with immune system dysfunction, which results from – or predisposes to – herpes virus infections. Immune system dysfunction will present as alterations in NK cell function that may lead to, or result from, alterations in cytokine (= immune system chemicals) production and altered expression of genes that are involved with controling the immune system.

The study will also investigate whether the pattern of immune system abnormalities in ME/CFS fluctuates over time and in association with a changing clinical picture. And it is possible that people with ME/CFS will have a diagnostic biosignature that is distinct from healthy controls, and that further alterations in the immune system pattern will be seen during episodes of clinical exacerbation or relapse. So blood samples for this study have been collected at the onset, after 6 months, and at times of exacerbation or relapse of symptoms.

This study has recruited 150 people with Canadian and Fukuda criteria ME/CFS (50 severe, 100 non-severe), 75 multiple sclerosis/MS controls, and 75 healthy controls. More information can be found on the ME Biobank website at https://cureme.lshtm.ac.uk/the-uk-mecfs-biobank/

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER

Medical Matters is for information purposes only. The answers provided by Dr Shepherd and the ME Association’s other expert advisers should not be construed as medical advice. We recommend that any information you deem relevant is discussed with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to obtain advice from a GP who is in charge of your clinical care, who knows you well, and who can consider other likely causes for symptoms. Seek personalised medical advice whenever a new symptom arises, or an existing symptom worsens. Don't assume that new or worsened symptoms are a result of having ME/CFS.

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