To coincide with International ME Awareness Day 2021 (12th May), ME Research UK with the financial support of The Gordon Parish Charitable Trust (SCIO Charity no SC045752) announced a £400,000 joint initiative to fund biomedical research into the role of viruses in ME/CFS globally. The research Call has been highlighted in the press with an article in The Courier from the famous DC Thomson publishing stable.
The first award has been offered to a European researcher, with the project looking at how viral infections may lead to damage to the mitochondria in ME/CFS.
Many of those affected by the illness report symptom onset after a viral infection and the late Dr Gordon Parish had a life-long interest in viruses and their role in the illness – Dr Parish’s own work included identifying 47 possible epidemics of ME across the world, from 1934 to 1979, and compiling an archive of literature on each one.
Much work needs to be done on how a viral event leads to chronic, multi-system symptoms. Given the current reports of those with long-Covid exhibiting parallel symptom to those with ME/CFS and studies suggesting that 10% of those diagnosed with a COVID-19 viral infection will experience lingering illness, ME Research UK’s latest research call is highly topical.
However, a definitive association between a single virus and the development of ME/CFS has not yet been confirmed. Viruses that have been implicated as potential triggers of ME/CFS include human herpesviruses (such as Epstein–Barr virus which causes glandular fever), many of which can remain dormant in the body for years, and human endogenous retroviruses, a family of viruses contained within the human genome. The mechanisms by which these viruses might trigger the symptoms of ME/CFS are not known, but possibilities include altering immune cells or mitochondria, and inducing autoimmunity.
Scientists have not yet identified what causes ME/CFS. It is possible that ME/CFS has more than one cause, meaning that patients with ME/CFS could have illness resulting from different causes – viral infection being one of them. In addition, it is possible that two or more triggers might work together to cause the illness. The role of various viruses in ME/CFS have been the cause of much speculation but little research – this latest investment will help change this.
Researchers wishing to apply for funding are invited to do so here.