Story by Sarah Staples
The ME Association’s Christmas appeal to fund groundbreaking research – which hit its £50,000 target in less than four weeks – is to stay open, with money raised from it helping to build links between patients and researchers.
Helen Hyland, the charity’s fundraising manager, said: “Make ME Better is the most ambitious campaign we have ever launched. To have raised its total in less than a month, it’s beyond anything we dreamt of, an unbelievable achievement.
“So I’m delighted to announce that we have decided to keep the appeal running until its scheduled end date of February and that – after talks with Dr Karl Morten, who is leading the research – we have agreed other ways that we can support his team.”
Make ME Better was launched to fund scientists from the University of Oxford and Newcastle University to study 300 blood samples from patients with ME and a control group, analysing metabolomics – chemical clues that left behind after changes in cells.
Identifying these changes could help find a simple blood test for the illness and open doors to attract pharmaceutical companies to invest in research for new drugs to help treat it.
Now it can be revealed that the extra money raised by Make ME Better will be used to recruit a part-time postdoctoral researcher to support Dr Morten and his colleague, Professor Jamie McCullagh.
The researcher will build new links with the Oxford Fatigue Service, recruiting patients with ME into a series of new pilot studies into the illness. Something that, in the eyes of Dr Morten, is crucial.
“There needs to be deeper co-operation between clinicians, researchers and patients. Taking on a researcher will mean that we can reach out to those worst affected by ME, who are often housebound and would otherwise find it physically impossible to be involved in studies.
“In addition we will establish links between the clinic and research laboratories which will be of fundamental importance when applying for larger grants from the MRC and Wellcome. Being able to demonstrate this clinical connection and provide evidence that we can recruit patients to studies will significantly increase our chances of success.
“These projects will be exploring the disease’s biological basis and exploring areas such as the microbiome, developing biomarkers of energetic dysfunction, functional brain imaging and muscle spectroscopy.”
The researcher will also help to analyse the large amount of data generated by the metabolomics study.
“Our goal is to make Oxford University a global centre for research into ME. The studies we do here will provide pilot data for future grant applications to pharmaceutical companies and charitable grants that will help us push the boundaries of ME research.”
Helen Hyland added: “Personally, I’d like to shake everyone by the hand who has donated so far – although given people’s generosity, it would be a very long line. So instead, I’d like to take this opportunity of saying: ‘thank you!’
“But now the work goes on. We can’t Make ME Better overnight, but it really feels as if we’re on the start of something.”
To donate to Make ME Better, visit our JustGiving page: