Current Research Studies

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The following represent research that is underway or recently completed with publication of results in progress.


Exclusive Research Funded by the ME Association Ramsay Research Fund


1) Examining Mitochondria in ME/CFS

We hope this important study will begin in 2017, and while we await a formal application, we can confirm that scientists from the University of Oxford and Newcastle University will spend about 12 months analysing nearly 300 blood samples from the UK ME/CFS Biobank looking at the chemical clues that are left behind after changes in cells. It is hoped that these metabolites will provide some indication of what might be causing ME/CFS.

The British research will also try to replicate the findings from an important 2016 study by Dr Robert Naviaux, which suggested that ME/CFS could be caused by the body going into a state of semi-hibernation. Dr Morten will be working alongside Dr James McCullagh, Associate Professor in Mass Spectrometry at the University of Oxford, and Professor Julia Newton, Dean for Clinical Medicine at Newcastle University.

Funding for this research has come largely from the 2016 ME Asscociation Christmas Appeal which raised £70,000.

Lead researcher: Dr Karl Morten

RRF investment = £100,000

2) Examination of MicroRNA profiles in PBMCs and exosome-enriched vesicles

Using samples from the UK ME/CFS Biobank, Professor Elisa Oltra and colleagues in Spain will aim to build up a detailed picture of possibly diagnostic changes in miRNA profiles in ME/CFS – along similar lines to what they discovered in fibromyalgia.

Dr Charles Shepherd wrote a summary about this study, here. The research is expected to begin early in 2017 and will take 18 months to complete.

Lead researcher: Professor Elisa Oltra

RRF investment = £50,000

3) Effect of Exercise on Cognitive and Immune System Function

The research will aim to provide objective evidence of post-exertional malaise by looking at the effects of exercise on immune system function and cognitive function.

The research protocol will also involve measurement of respiratory function during exercise – an aspect of research that the ME Association are keen to pursue – and the study will use patients who meet both the Fukuda and Canadian diagnostic criteria.

Lead researchers: Dr Amolak Bansal and Dr Megan Arroll

RRF investment = £32,000

4) Sleep Disturbance and Management

Sleep abnormalities and specific types of sleep disturbance will be thoroughly assessed in 40 patients recruited from Professor Julia Newton’s research group in Newcastle.

A tailored sleep management programme will then be devised based on this information and delivered in collaboration with each patient.

Lead researchers: Professor Jason Ellis and Professor Julia Newton

RRF investment = £15,000

5) Comparison of results from a commercial and NHS blood test to assess mitochondrial function

This study will be comparing the results of a commercial blood test for mitochondrial function that has been developed by Dr Sarah Myhill and colleagues with the results from an international and widely accepted test of mitochondrial function which has a long and successful track record in clinical diagnosis and research of muscle disease particularly in the UK.

The aim is to determine the efficacy of each set of tests in relation to ME/CFS. In the exciting case that a synergy between the two diagnostic approaches exists, it is hoped that this preliminary study will promote an investigation into a more inclusive and highly resolved analytical technique for metabolic testing of people with ME/CFS.

Lead researcher:  Dr Sarah Jayne Boulton

RRF investment = £21,305


Collaborative Research and Donations:


6) Abnormalities in Mitochondrial Function in Skeletal Muscle

Employing new technology, this research aims to demonstrate that skeletal muscle mitochondria are dysfunctional and cause the muscle fatigue experienced in ME/CFS:

‘The dysfunctional mitochondria then activate a process which leads to a chronic, low grade inflammation, commonly reported in patients with CFS, which in turn results in further mitochondrial abnormalities and the establishment of a vicious circle of events. Understanding the processes by which muscle fatigue occurs will lead to optimal interventions that break this vicious circle and improve muscle function and wellbeing of individuals.’

Extract taken from: MRC CFS/ME Current Projects

Preliminary results from the study were published in a recent paper: ‘The Role of Cytokines in Muscle Fatigue in Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’, The FASEB Journal, April 2015.

The authors recruited 100 untreated patients with CFS and 100 age and sex matched healthy controls, and concluded:

…a sub-group of patients with CFS may have low level inflammation and analyses are underway to further characterise other inflammatory markers in serum and muscle of these patients and to determine whether such changes could affect indices of muscle function or central fatigue.

Lead researcher: Professor Anne McArdle

This research is being jointly funded with the Medical Research Council

RRF investment = £30,000

7) Immune System Dysfunction

This is a 16-month study that began in May 2014 and will look at the way the immune system responds, particularly against infections, in people with ME/CFS. Patients will be recruited from the Newcastle NHS ME/CFS specialist service.

At the launch of the initiative, Professor Todryk commented:

Because many different known diseases also have fatigue as one of their symptoms, this suggests that several processes may come into play to cause it. Uncontrolled immune responses appear to be important in fatigue, and infections – that’s viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites – are major initiators of immune responses, some of which are associated with ME/CFS. We want work out if those immune responses can be used to diagnose M.E./CFS, and if they can be targeted for treatment.

Lead researchers: Professor Stephen Todryk and Professor Julia Newton

This research is being jointly funded with Action for M.E.

RRF investment = £19,500