Adelaide researchers are hoping to unlock the mystery of a debilitating illness that has no officially approved medical treatment but affects tens of thousands of Australians each year — and many more globally.
Senior Research Fellow Michael Musker says the work now being done at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to try to understand Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) has “worldwide significance”.
Dr Musker says because the cause of CFS — also referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) — isn’t known, nor is there a cure.
“If we can establish what it is and how it affects the body, we may be able to find a solution,” he said.
“The work we’re now doing hasn’t been done anywhere else and involves taking blood samples from 30 people with CFS (as well as 15 who don’t have CFS) every seven minutes, over an eight-hour period to look for inflammatory markers, and hopefully find some answers.”
The samples have now all been taken and are being stored in a freezer to allow each one to be scrutinised during a painstaking process, expected to take about a year.
“We believe that we can make a major contribution to a participant’s quality of life by finding the biological basis of their clinical symptoms ... (then) we may be able to target treatments.”
CFS is described as being like running a marathon while having a severe case of glandular fever on top of the flu — and the symptoms can last years.
“If you try to think of a day when you’ve felt totally exhausted — more so than ever before — and then try to imagine being stuck in that mode every day for at least six months, you’ll have some idea of what it is like to have CFS,” Dr Musker said.
“There is no test for the illness and it can be difficult to get a diagnosis — patients, as well as doctors, can become frustrated as they can’t find an explanation for the symptoms.
“The illness is commonly misunderstood and can have a huge psychological effect on people, who can become isolated from friends and family.”
“(This illness) destroys careers, tears families apart, shortens lives and holds people hostage to a painful chronic illness that has no recognised treatment and few knowledgeable doctors.
“I have no expectation of an imminent ‘cure’ but great hopes that current research will point the way to reducing the symptoms and allowing those of us in the ME community to increase the scope of our daily lives.”
TO raise awareness of the illness, a film called Unrest, which follows the real-life story of a young, about-to-be-married woman who is left bedridden when she is struck down by the illness, will be shown at the University of South Australia on November 9.
For tickets, visit the TryBooking website.
This story was reproduced with permission from The Advertiser.