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Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome affects at least 2 million people in the United States. Despite its prevalence, there’s no laboratory test for the disease, and its diagnosis is based on symptoms like exhaustion, unrefreshing sleep, and light sensitivity. For patients with this debilitating condition, getting a diagnosis is often a long and expensive process. Now, a long-awaited biomarker-based test for the mysterious disease could be on the horizon.
Researchers recently described the new nanoelectronics assay in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The test was designed to measure immune cells’ response to an osmotic stressor—in this case a dose of salt, a common way researchers stress cells in the lab. The idea was to mimic postexertional malaise, the cardinal feature of chronic fatigue syndrome, on a cellular level.
In a pilot study involving 40 people, blood samples from people with physician-diagnosed moderate to severe chronic fatigue syndrome produced bigger changes in electrical impedance in the presence of salt than samples from people without the condition.
The spikes in impedance could be an indication that the patients’ cells are straining to effectively maintain homeostatic equilibrium under stress, according to the researchers, and could even correlate with disease severity. “We clearly see a difference in the way healthy and chronic fatigue syndrome immune cells process stress,” senior author Ron Davis, PhD, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
Coupling the array with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, the researchers intend to create a handheld diagnostic device and preclinical drug-screening platform. First, they’ll need to find out if the responses they found are specific to patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. A larger trial is currently enrolling participants, according to the statement.
Abbasi J. Biomarker Test for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. JAMA. 2019;322(2):107. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.8890
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