“Of the many mysterious human illnesses that science has yet to unravel, ME/CFS has proven to be one of the most challenging,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “I am hopeful that renewed research focus will lead us toward identifying the cause of this perplexing and debilitating disease so that new prevention and treatment strategies can be developed.”
NIH’s direction on the disease is being guided by a recent Institute of Medicine report , that recommended new diagnostic criteria and a new name for the disease (Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease), and an NIH-sponsored Pathways to Prevention meeting that generated a position paper and report with recommendations for research strategies.
The symptoms result in significant functional impairment accompanied by profound fatigue. Because the pathology of ME/CFS remains unknown and there is no test to diagnose the disease, studies to date have used different criteria for diagnosis, which has limited the ability to compare results across studies. Additionally, many of the published studies are based on small study populations and have not been replicated.
In an effort to remedy this situation, NIH will design a clinical study in the NIH Clinical Center with plans to enroll individuals who developed fatigue following a rapid onset of symptoms suggestive of an acute infection. The study will involve researchers from NINDS, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Nursing Research and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The primary objective of the study is to explore the clinical and biological characteristics of ME/CFS following a probable infection to improve understanding of the disease’s cause and progression.
NIH will also be considering additional ways to support ME/CFS research in the extramural research community. Since the root cause of ME/CFS is unknown and the manifestations of the disorder cut across the science interests of multiple NIH institutes and centers, a trans-NIH working group will be needed to assist that plan. NINDS Director Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., will chair the Working Group along with Vicky Holets Whittemore, Ph.D., the NIH representative to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee. One goal of the group will be to explore how new technologies might shed light on what causes ME/CFS. The Working Group includes representation from 23 NIH institutes, centers and offices.