‘Is debilitating ME in the genes rather than the mind?’

From the Daily Mail, 5 May 2008 (writer Daniel Bates)

The debilitating disease ME could be in the genes, scientists say. They found that patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis shared certain genetic characteristics.

At the same time, other research suggests that those predisposed to the condition develop it once it is triggered by a bacterial illness.

At present, there is no test or cure for ME – also known as chronic fatigue syndrome or ‘yuppie flu’ – which affects about 15,000 Britons or one in 200.

Symptoms include extreme exhaustion, sleep disturbances, memory and concentration difficulties, a sore throat, headaches and pain in the muscles and joints.

In its most extreme form, it can leave sufferers – who include Dame Kelly Holmes and Emily Wilcox, the daughter of television presenter Esther Rantzen – bedridden and can even be fatal.

However, because the disease’s symptoms are so similar to flu and vary between patients, doctors are able to diagnose it only after ruling out every possible cause.

Researchers from St George’s, University of London claim they have now discovered 88 genetic differences between sufferers.

They say this has allowed them to divide patients into seven types, according to the severity of their symptoms.

It means a blood test could soon be developed to help diagnose the disease.

Dr Jonathan Kerr, who led the study, told delegates at the Wellcome Trust Conference Centre in Cambridge: "We must now determine what these sub-types represent, as they appear to be biologically meaningful, and discover their natural history and possibilities for treatment."

The meeting was organised by ME Research UK and the Irish ME Trust to discuss the latest advances in identifying the biological origins of the disease.

Other research announced at the conference suggested possible treatments for the disease.

An American study claimed that weekly injections of immune adjuvant, which regulates the way the immune system works, could help reduce symptoms for many sufferers.

Australian research also found some ME patients had their illnesses triggered by Q Fever or Flinders Island Spotted Fever, which are caused by bacteria.

Despite the severity of the disease’s symptoms, however, questions still persist over whether it is ‘all in the mind’.

According to the World Health Organisation, ME is a neurological condition and a 2002 report from Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, recognised it as a debilitating condition for the first time.

But treatments are almost exclusively based on the psychological aspects of the illness.

In 2005, a study by University College London found the physical symptoms of the disease were often exacerbated by the psychological ones. Sceptics claimed it proved the illness was ‘all in the mind’.

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