Jenna McMurray, Calgary Sun
Alberta researchers hoping to prove once and for all a debilitating syndrome is viral in origin are launching an ambitious study in Calgary and Edmonton.
Outbreaks of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) have been documented since 1930, but have no known cause or accepted diagnostic tests.
Recent research has argued both for and against the theory that ME/CFS, which causes exhaustion, sleep disorders, cognitive problems, and muscle and joint pain, is linked to a retrovirus called XMRV, a relative of HIV.
Dr. Eleanor Stein, a Calgary ME/CFS specialist and researcher, said a study launching in Calgary will look to confirm if the syndrome is in fact linked with the retrovirus, which is tricky to find and treat.
“The retrovirus actually fits itself into our own DNA so that when our DNA replicates, the retrovirus replicates with it,” she said.
There is no known treatment for ME/CFS and it is estimated more than 300,000 Canadians may be affected.
Stein will be joined by Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, founding director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology in Edmonton, and Dr. Michael Houghton of the University of Alberta, who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology, for a preliminary study next month.
Approximately 100 participants — 50 diagnosed with ME/CFS and 50 healthy —are needed between Calgary and Edmonton.
The subjects will answer questionnaires and have blood drawn ideally by the end of September, said Stein, so the research team has enough time to gather data and apply for grants early next year to fund a larger study.
Patients severely affected by ME/CFS are invited to join the study as well, as the team can draw blood at their residences.
Interested Calgarians are asked to call 403-287-9941 and Edmontonians 780-492-8415.