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Funding boost will help patients with ME


Experts at Newcastle University have received funding to compare results from a commercial and a clinical diagnostic based blood test to assess mitochondrial function in ME/CFS.

The MEA Ramsay Research Fund has announced an award of £21,305 to Dr Sarah Jayne Boulton and colleagues at Newcastle University.

The award will fund a new research study, comparing the results of a commercial blood test for mitochondrial function - that has been developed by Dr Sarah Myhill and colleagues - with the results from an international and widely accepted test of mitochondrial function. 


Mitochondria play a vital role in energy production at a cellular level, especially in skeletal muscle, and a number of research studies – including some carried out at Newcastle University - have demonstrated abnormalities in muscle in people with ME/CFS that are linked to mitochondrial function.

The MEA therefore believes that research into mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS should be a high priority research item - as does the Medical Research Council.

This is why the charity already funds a study carried out by Professor Julia Newton and colleagues at Newcastle University, along with the Medical Research Council. 

MEA has also made a contribution to research that is being carried out by Dr Joanna Elson at Newcastle University, which is looking at mitochondrial DNA.

Diagnosis of mitochondrial dysfunction

Interest in the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in ME/CFS has also led to the development of a commercial blood test - often referred to as the ATP profiling test - by Dr Sarah Myhill and colleagues.

In very simple terms, the test measures a number of components that determine a person's ability to generate a substance called ATP, which is the cell's unit of energy currency at a molecular level.

However, this test has not been validated by independent assessments. It is not therefore used to diagnose mitochondrial disease in the NHS.

The comparison study involves using a series of spectroscopic assays which are based upon published assays both for research and diagnosing mitochondrial disease, and the functionality of individual mitochondrial respiratory complexes are determined. These assays have been validated by other independent groups and laboratories.

These respiratory chain complexes, like links in a chain, must all be fully functional and tightly cooperative to allow the necessary ATP-producing oxidative phosphorylation reactions to occur. Any 'weak link' in the respiratory chain will result in sub-optimal respiratory function, poor ATP production and metabolic dysfunction, of which fatigue is a major symptom.

An array of spectroscopic mitochondrial diagnostic techniques to measure the respiratory chain complexes were first reported by Newcastle University in 1994 and were the foundation for current clinical diagnostic assays in the UK.

And in October 2014, Dr Boulton began a six month project funded by the MRC Confidence in Concept call that investigates the usefulness of the spectroscopic methods in stratifying ME/CFS patients based on their mitochondrial respiratory complex function.

Pilot data that supported the hypothesis of mitochondrial respiratory Complex II involvement in fatigue was generated from cultured muscle.

How will this comparison of tests be carried out?

The research will involve a comparison between the data generated using the ATP profiling tests and the established mitochondrial complex assays using spectrophotometric techniques.

The aim is to determine the efficacy of each set of tests in relation to ME/CFS. In the exciting case that a synergy between the two diagnostic approaches exists, it is hoped that this preliminary study will promote an investigation into a more inclusive and highly resolved analytical technique for metabolic testing of people with ME/CFS.

Press release courtesy of ME Association

published on: 21 July 2015