Ongoing research: Searching for ME/CFS biomarkers in blood and cerebrospinal fluid


Dr Bo Bertilson, Bragée Clinics, Sweden

Funded by

ME Research UK


The diagnosis of ME/CFS is severely hampered by a lack of clinical biomarkers. Biomarkers are measurable clues within the body that tell us about the presence of a disease, and can give information about disease progression. Identifying a valid biomarker for ME/CFS could therefore help with diagnosis and in identifying new treatment options.

One potential source of biomarkers is the host of proteins and metabolites circulating in the body. Proteins are large molecules that perform many crucial functions (including antibodies to protect us from infection, and enzymes that regulate our metabolism), while metabolites are produced when we break down (or metabolise) our food, and also have functions of their own.

Dr Bertilson’s research team for this project includes Prof. Per Sjögren also of Bragée Clinics, and Prof. Jonas Bergquist who is an expert on analytical chemistry at Uppsala University. In a previous study, blood plasma and cerebrospinal fluid samples were collected from well-characterised ME/CFS patients (diagnosed using the Canadian Consensus Criteria) and healthy control subjects, and these will now be analysed for potential biomarkers.

Dr Bo Bertilson & Assoc. Prof. Per Sjögren of Bragée ME Center, with a photo of Prof. Jonas Bergquist of Uppsala University


The team will use mass spectrometry to perform proteomic and metabolomic analyses of these plasma and cerebrospinal fluid samples. Mass spectrometry is a method of identifying chemical substances in a sample by vaporising the sample and separating it into its components using a magnetic field. From this one can calculate the relative amounts of each of the molecules present.

The researchers will analyse the levels of different proteins and metabolites in the samples, and compare these with the levels measured in samples from healthy control subjects. Their aim is to identify a profile of these molecules that is characteristic of ME/CFS and can help identify people with the disease.

Potential benefits

Identifying a valid biomarker for ME/CFS would be a valuable step in improving the diagnosis of the disease, and also in validating patients’ experiences through the identification of hard clinical evidence. However, the findings may also help in the search for the underlying biological cause of ME/CFS, as well as highlighting potential new treatments.

The researchers also highlight that additional plasma and cerebrospinal fluid samples are available for other research projects, and invite other scientists to contact them if they are interested. “Biosamples should be used, not stored forever, and our samples (plasma, serum and cerebrospinal fluid) may add potential knowledge to the enigma of ME/CFS.”

Main project page

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