Australian scientists have identified new biomarkers that can be used to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome in a screening test that they say is now ready for public use.
While we're still a long way off finding a cure for the disease, the serious lack of adequate diagnostic and screening tools has made living with chronic fatigue syndrome even more difficult, because the uncertainty surrounding it has led many to assume it's not a 'real' disease. "Patients are isolated and further stigmatised by disbelief of their condition," says Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik from Griffith University.
Marshall-Gradisnik and her team are currently looking to partner with diagnostic companies that will be able to commercialise their new screening test and make it available to the public.
The hope is that instead of subjecting chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients to a number of tests to try and establish various characteristics of the disease, this screening test alone will be enough to identify it.
"This screening test may be expected to become a laboratory standard to provide more certain, and cost-efficient, diagnosis for CFS. Currently patients may be undergoing a range of tests to diagnose for CFS which incurs a significant cost to the health care system," says Marshall-Gradisnik.
The test will also not just be a one-off - it's been designed to both screen for the disease, and then monitor and track its progression later on, which will further assist doctors in knowing how to treat it on an individual basis.
"This illness has traditionally been difficult to diagnose, meaning that people can go for months without getting the care and attention they require," says one of the team, Don Staines. "We are confident that the new screening test currently in development will provide efficient and increasingly accurate screening for people with CFS."
The test targets common genetic variants known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which can predispose a person to chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the researchers, in up to 80 percent of cases, an infectious disease such as glandular fever has triggered the expression of these SNPs to bring on the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Details of the research behind the test have been published in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology.
In the US, up to 2.3 percent of children and adolescents are affected by chronic fatigue syndrome, and some 400,000 Australians have also been diagnosed. And yet, researchers are still trying to formally establish it as a biological disorder with distinct stages.
A study published back in March 2015 by researchers at Columbia University had also identified certain biomarkers for the disease, which indicated that the immune system of patients is permanently stuck in overdrive. Work is ongoing to turn this understanding into more effective treatments or even a cure.
"We now have evidence confirming what millions of people with this disease already know, that ME/CFS isn't psychological," said lead author of the 2015 study, Mady Hornig.
The Australian researchers haven't given a date for when they expect their screening test to be available to the public - they say it's all ready to go, so it's just a matter of having the funds to get it out there. Fingers crossed it happens soon, because if a cure is still many years away, better diagnostic tools will at least go a long way towards getting past the confusion and stigma that's surrounded the disease for decades.