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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 01:08 GMT
ME research action plan revealed
Kath Stewart
Some doctors are sceptical about ME
Guidelines for long-awaited research into the origins and treatment of ME have been launched.

The Medical Research Council proposals follow the concession from ministers earlier this year that ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), is a genuine physical condition.

This was widely welcomed by patient groups, which have battled for years against parts of the medical establishment that claimed the illness had at most a psychological basis.

The guidelines could make it easier for ME/CFS research projects to attract funding.

The MRC suggests a wide range of approaches, including:

  • clinical trials to evaluate the merit of different treatments
  • the use of imaging technology to determine whether ME/CFS is linked to physical changes
  • an examination of the possible role of the central nervous, immune and hormonal systems
  • psychological studies

It also emphasises the importance of lay people taking a central role in research.

Sceptic Doctors

Kath Stewart used to be a keen sportswoman, but had to give up her job as a community worker three years ago after the onset of the illness.

Many of the people with the illness have been completely abandoned and isolated

Chris Clarke, Action for ME
However, she has experienced scepticism from some doctors.

She said: "One doctor told me to get a life and go back to work - I said to him that I wished I could!"

ME/CFS can involve a wide variety of debilitating symptoms - including fatigue in some patients - but often involving rashes, fevers and dizziness in others.

However, very few clues exist as to a cause for these illnesses.

Patient groups concede that the overall quality of research into ME/CFS is relatively low.

Little Known

Dr Nancy Rothwell is the chairman of a group of scientists who have been drawing up the MRC's research strategy on ME.

She told the BBC: "We know rather little about CFS/ME - there is even some doubt about the definition of the illness.

"We certainly know very little about the causes, and we have virtually no effective treatments."

Chris Clarke, from the patient group Action for ME, said much needed to be done to make progress.

"Many of the people with the illness have been completely abandoned and isolated.

"There are people very severely affected in whom research is desperately need.

"We must have funding and we must have scientists taking the condition seriously and doing something."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Some of those dismissed by doctors turn to yoga as a form of treatment"
See also:

17 Dec 02 | Health
30 Nov 02 | Health
01 Mar 00 | Health
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