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Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: correlation between neurological symptoms and immunological changes detected in an Austrian Study

International Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Day on 12 May
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(Vienna, 12 May 2021) Although the causes for the severe multi-system disease known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) are not yet known, a new MedUni Vienna study confirms a significant correlation between the neurological symptoms and changes of the immune response. Study leader Eva Untersmayr-Elsenhuber from MedUni Vienna's Center for Pathophysiology, Infectiology and Immunology summarises the main findings as follows: "We found a high percentage of ME/CFS patients having an impaired immune response."

To coincide with International ME/CFS Awareness Day today, 12 May 2021, a project currently being conducted at MedUni Vienna reports a high percentage of immune changes in ME/CFS patients. "We detected immunodeficiencies or a decline in relevant immune parameters in more than 70% of the patients investigated. The greater incidence of recurrent infections in the medical records of a majority of the patients confirms the clinical relevance of these findings," explains Eva Untersmayr-Elsenhuber from MedUni Vienna's Department of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research.

The project funded by the "Charitable Foundation for Supporting Patients and Researching Undiagnosed Diseases" is continued with Elisabeth Puchhammer, Head of MedUni Vienna's Center for Virology and registered Viennese neurologist Michael Stingl. The study highlights the altered immune response and persistence of viral infections that are associated with the onset of chronic fatigue. "The increasing number of patients who are struggling with severe, long-lasting fatigue following Covid-19 shows that this research is more timely and relevant than ever before."  

New project started
The research team recently acquired another project that will now be started to mark International ME/CFS Awareness Day: The aim of this project is to work with ME/CFS patients in collaboration with the patient organisation "CFS Aid Austria" to identify hitherto unknown causes of the disease. The project is funded by the PPIE programme of the "Ludwig Boltzmann Society Open Innovation in Science Center", which supports the active involvement of patients and citizens in research projects.

A questionnaire will be developed jointly by researchers and ME/CFS patients to collate information about the very different causes of the disease, as well as patients' symptoms. Data will also be collected about relevant diagnostic steps and symptom improving treatments. These data will be digitally analysed on an anonymised basis – with the aim of defining diagnoses and potential treatment options for groups with similar symptoms. "We hope that the results of the project will provide support for treating physicians and patients in the future and will lead to a quicker diagnosis and to the definition of potential treatment options," says Untersmayr-Elsenhuber.  

About ME/CFS
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a severe multi-system disease that is associated with serious physical limitations. It affects around 17 million people worldwide and around 25,000 patients in Austria. In addition to post-exertional malaise and severe fatigue, which massively restricts the patients’ level of physical activity, ME/CFS sufferers also display neurocognitive, autonomic and immunological symptoms. The exact causes of the condition are yet unknown.