Monday, October 24, 2011

Cancer drug key to treating chronic fatigue syndrome

'Most encouraging drug result so far in the history of the disease,' says charity spokesman
By CLAIRE BATES Last updated at 10:36 AM on 24th October 2011:

Chronic fatigue syndrome, which affects one in 250 Britons, may be caused by a faulty immune system attacking the body.

The controversial condition causes persistent exhaustion that affects everyday life and doesn't go away with sleep or rest. It can last from a matter of weeks to several years. Doctors, while agreeing that the syndrome does exist, have been perplexed as to what causes it.

Now researchers from Haukeland University Hospital in Norway, believe they have discovered a possible cause after treating a patient who had both cancer and chronic fatigue. The man, who had Hodgkin's lymphoma, showed a marked recovery from his CFS symptoms after receiving chemotherapy.

The scientists, led by Dr Oystein Fluge and Dr Olav Mella, then decided to test an anti-lymphoma drug in a trial of 30 patients with chronic fatigue. They found that symptoms of the disease eased in two-thirds of the patients given Rituximab. Two of the patients were completely cured after receiving the drug three years ago and have since returned to work. Rituximab works by destroying a protein found on the surface of white blood cells that make antibodies, called B cells. The scientists said the findings suggested that: 'CFS/ME, which is often preceded by an infection, may be a form of autoimmune disease in which B-cells are important'.

The team treated 30 CFS patients, giving half two doses of Rituximab and the other half a fake treatment. In the patients receiving the drug, 67 per cent reported an improvement of symptoms, while just 13 per cent showed any improvement in the sham group. 'It's the most encouraging drug result so far in the history of the disease,' said Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the UK ME Association.

'Although it's a small trial, it's produce dramatic results.' The researchers found no trace of a mouse leukaemia virus, called XMRV, that was once proposed as a possible cause of CFS but has since been largely eliminated. The findings have been published in the latest version of the online journal PLoS ONE.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, once known as 'yuppie flu', can cause symptoms that vary from mild but persistant tiredness, to becoming bed bound with an intolerance to noise and bright lights. Around 250,000 people in the UK have CFS.

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