The days of doubt may finally come to an end for chronic fatigue syndrome sufferers, now that Stanford University scientists have created a blood test for the condition.
Some two million Americans are estimated to suffer the mysterious disease, which is marked by otherwise inexplicable tiredness, pain, poor sleep and sometimes dizziness and brain fog.
Surrounded by so many questions, patients’ complaints are often dismissed by families, strangers and even physicians who think their symptoms may be in their heads.
At last, Stanford scientists’ blood test accurately identified which half of a group of 40 had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and which had not – with 100 percent accuracy, a new study reveals.
A simple blood test may prove once and for all that chronic fatigue syndrome is real for some two patients in the US whose symptoms are often dismissed as ‘fake’
‘Too often, this disease is categorized as imaginary,’ said senior study author and Stanford professor of biochemistry and genetics, Dr Ron Davis.
‘All these different tests would normally guide the doctor toward one illness or another, but for chronic fatigue syndrome patients, the results all come back normal.’
Chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), has long perplexed patients and doctors alike, as we know neither what causes it nor how to treat it.
Most suspect that ME/CFS is cause by some sort of out-of-whack immune response to stressors or environmental triggers, but little about the disease is proven.
As a result, people who find themselves unbearably exhausted – no matter how much they sleep – and in pain are sometimes told that their illnesses are not ‘real.’
What’s worse, with no proven or approved treatments, desperate patients are sometimes preyed upon by fraudulent or experimental scientists, a subject explored in the controversial Netflix series, Afflicted.
Many of the series’ subjects were incensed by their portrayal and claimed that an interview with the new study’s lead author, Dr Davis, was cut from the footage.
Dr Davis’s own son, Whitney DaFoe, suffers from such debilitating ME/CFS that he can no longer walk, speak or even eat on his own.
Unraveling the mystery of his son’s condition has become a mission for Dr Davis.
And the blood test he and his team have developed may be one of the first and most important breakthroughs for diagnosing and destigmatizing ME/CFS.
The new test that he designed in collaboration with lead study author Dr Rahim Esfandyarpour works by measuring energy output from immune cells in the blood.
The so-called ‘nanoelectronic assay’ measures how much the energy outputs of these cells change when they are exposed to stress, in this case, modeled by salt.
Essentially, more change in the electrical activity or behavior of the cells when they were exposed to salt, the researchers thought, should indicate the the cells are less healthy and resilient.
When they tested the blood of 40 trial participants – 20 diagnosed with ME/CFS, 20 without – the results were as clear as day.
Those with ME/CFS had very reactive blood, while healthy immune cells were much less disturbed by the salt stress.
‘We don’t know exactly why the cells and plasma are acting this way, or even what they’re doing,’ Dr Davis said.
‘But there is scientific evidence that this disease is not a fabrication of a patient’s mind.
‘We clearly see a difference in the way healthy and chronic fatigue syndrome immune cells process stress.’
Next, he and Dr Esfandyarpour plan to recreate their experiment with a much larger sample, and to test possible drugs to treat the condition without exposing patients themselves to such experiments.