Possible cure for chronic fatigue found

Norwegian researchers make CFS breakthrough

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), the malady characterized by debilitating fatigue, is both prevalent and elusive. It’s prevalent because it affects an estimated one million Americans. It’s elusive because it’s the term for a cluster of symptoms that to date have not been explained by any known medical conditions. Consequently, there’s neither a single test to confirm a CFS diagnosis nor a recognized cure for it. That may soon change, following research conducted by two oncologists in Bergen, Norway.

In 2004, Doctors Øystein Fluge and Olav Mella at the Haukeland University Hospital were using Rituximab, an antibody drug, to treat lymphoma in a patient who also suffered from CFS. A few months later, the symptoms of CFS had disappeared. The doctors realized that they had chanced upon a cure for CFS. So starting in 2011, they conducted controlled studies on the effects of Rituximab in groups of people afflicted with CFS. The results were encouraging. Two-thirds of the people treated with Rituximab reported lasting relief from CFS starting four to six months after the first dose of the drug.

The relief observed indicated that Rituximab had promise as a cure for CFS. It also suggested a cause for CFS. Rituximab acts by destroying B cells, one of the three types of white blood cells that help the body fight infection. So it is used to treat diseases that characterized by overactive or excessive numbers of B cells, such as lymphoma and leukemia. The effect on CFS suggests that its symptoms are in some way caused by antibodies initially produced to combat an infection. One plausible mechanism is that the antibodies might impede blood flow that in turn robs muscles of energy.

If proven correct by larger studies now planned, these findings will significantly alter views on CFS. As there long were believed to be no physiological causes of it, people who suffered CFS often were thought to be malingering or psychologically disturbed. In the 1980s, when CFS outbreaks often affected 20 to 40 year-old professionals, it was dubbed “yuppie flu” in the media, a label that worsened the plight of CFS sufferers. So the promising solution to the mystery of CFS will have benefits that go beyond the improved knowledge of it.

Further reading:
“Revitalised,” Leader p. 3 and “Antibody wipeout relieves chronic fatigue,” news story p. 8, New Scientist issue 3208, July 4, 2015, also online at: www.newscientist.com/issue/3028%20

B-Lymphocyte Depletion in Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. An Open-Label Phase II Study with Rituximab Maintenance Treatment I, by Øystein Fluge, Olav Mella et. al, Public Library of Science (PLOS) online at www.doi.org, key in name 10.1371/journal.pone.0129898

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 21, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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