Listen to this article
ME Research UK
People with ME/CFS have a bewildering array of symptoms accompanied by varying levels of severity and disease courses, so finding a focus for research into the underlying cause has been exceptionally difficult.
The poor clinical experience of these individuals, confounded by a lack of treatment options, highlights the urgent need to develop objective diagnostic tools to assess disease progression and response to treatment.
One possible route to the development of such a tool is to look at the pattern of antibodies produced by the body as part of the immune response, and the central idea behind Dr Lacerda and Prof. Cambridge’s study is that many of the features of ME/CFS could stem from the body’s immune system attacking its own damaged proteins following an infectious or toxic insult. These proteins may be damaged by an excess of toxic molecules (reactive oxygen species).
An immune response is characterised by the production of antibodies, and Dr Lacerda and Prof. Cambridge plan to analyse the pattern of antibodies in samples from patients with moderate and severe ME/CFS (from the UK ME/CFS Biobank), linking them to changes in specific proteins. Their results may form the basis of new diagnostic tools for the disease, including stratification of patients based on severity.
In this pilot study, the researchers will analyse serum samples from ME/CFS patients and controls from the UK ME/CFS Biobank. They will use unique immunoprofiling technology (the Krex Syngenics platform, which has been developed specifically to search for new disease biomarkers) to describe the pattern of antibodies in these samples, and their analysis will be focused on 1,600 proteins which have roles in metabolism, immunology and neurology, and which may therefore be relevant to ME/CFS.
The patterns of antibodies detected will be used to generate a serological ‘map’ of patients with moderate and severe ME/CFS, which can be compared with that from healthy controls. They will also be able to compare the results with data from other clinical conditions, which are increasingly available.
These findings could potentially help form the basis for a diagnostic tool for ME/CFS, combining blood serum antibody tests and clinical data, and including stratification of patients based on severity. Furthermore, the information uncovered may also highlight important abnormalities in the disease that could guide future directions of research.