The Medical Research Council (MRC) has awarded more than £1.6m for research into the causes of the debilitating condition chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).
The investment will fund five new projects to investigate the mechanisms and underlying biological processes involved in the illness, which could eventually lead to better diagnosis and the development of more effective treatments.
CFS/ME is a complex and debilitating condition that affects around 250,000 people in the UK , including children. Symptoms include profound physical and mental fatigue, muscle and joint pain, disturbed sleep patterns and concentration and memory problems. The combination and severity of symptoms varies from patient to patient, making it a difficult condition to diagnose and treat.
Professor Stephen Holgate, Chair of the MRC’s Population and Systems Medicine Board, said:
“There is a pressing need to understand the causes of CFS/ME, and the MRC is delighted to announce substantial funding to address this. The quality and breadth of the scientific proposals we received in response to our funding call exceeded expectations and led to us funding more studies than we had originally anticipated.
“We’re especially pleased that the five new projects address many of the priority areas identified by our CFS/ME Expert Group in collaboration with charities and leading researchers in the field. We hope the awards will drive forward the research agenda in this area, paving the way for new diagnostic tools and treatments.”
Dr Charles Shepherd, member of the MRC CFS/ME Expert Group and trustee of the ME Association, which has agreed to provide £30,000 to co-fund one of the five projects, said:
“The ME Association is very pleased to learn that the MRC has followed up the research priorities identified by the Expert Group and agreed to fund five high-quality studies that aim to identify important biomedical abnormalities that may be involved in the underlying cause of CFS/ME.
“The patient community will particularly welcome research involving biomarkers/biological fingerprints, which could lead to a diagnostic test, and immune system abnormalities, which could lead to more effective forms of treatment.
“The fact that one of the studies is being co-funded by the charity sector marks a much needed step forward in co-operation between patients and researchers in this field. This initiative could be utilised to help fund additional research involving the priorities not yet covered by this announcement.”
The MRC has striven to stimulate high quality CFS/ME research for a number of years. Most recently the specially constituted MRC CFS/ME Expert Group, which involves leading researchers in the field and related areas, along with representatives from two CFS/ME charities, identified six priority areas where important research questions remained unanswered.
In February 2011, the MRC issued a £1.5m call for proposals in these areas, aimed at encouraging fresh partnerships between established CFS/ME researchers and those with strong scientific credentials, but new to this field. The key areas were:
• Nervous system disorders
• Cognitive symptoms
• Immune dysregulation (eg. through viral infection)
• Sleep disorders
In response to the high quality of the applications received, the MRC decided to provide an extra £150,000 to support the package of successful projects. The awards range in total value from £120,000 to £450,000 and the successful applicants were:
· Dr Wan Ng, Newcastle University
· Professor Julia Newton, Newcastle University
· Professor Anne McArdle, University of Liverpool
· Professor David Nutt, Imperial College London
· Dr Carmine Pariante, King’s College London
While the applications addressed most of the priority areas highlighted in the call, the MRC will announce shortly how it plans to stimulate research activity in those areas which were not covered.