Hannah Devlin Science Editor
Last updated at 12:01AM, April 23 2013
Scientists have found compelling new evidence for an underlying biological cause for the constant fatigue suffered by ME patients.
The study revealed abnormalities in the muscle cells people suffering from ME which are likely to contribute to feelings of tiredness and the inability to cope with sustained physical activity that many experience.
An analysis of muscle biopsies suggested that the cells had undergone substantial changes making them less able to cope with exertion.
The finding shows that whatever the initial trigger for ME, the condition leads to a cascade of physical changes right down to the cellular level.
Some patients still report facing stigma due to popular misconceptions that the condition is “all in the mind”, despite growing evidence that ME has real physical symptoms.
Julia Newton, Dean for Clinical Medicine at Newcastle University who led the study, said that the latest science was “changing people's perception of this terrible symptom”.
Professor Newton presented the findings at a meeting in London yesterday marking the launch of a collaboration aimed at generating more research into the disease.
In the study, scientists took muscle biopsies from 10 patients and ten healthy but sedentary volunteers.
The muscle cells were grown into small pieces of muscle and then subjected to “exercise” in the form of electrical impulses.
The cells from ME patients produced on average 20 times as much acid when exercised, suggesting an underlying cause for aching muscles that patients often experience as soon as they begin to exercise.
The cells also showed other abnormalities such as reproducing more slowly.
“We have found very real abnormalities” said Professor Newton.