Researchers say they have found a pathological link between long-term COVID and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
- Griffith University researchers say their findings could help treat those suffering from prolonged COVID
- Woman with chronic fatigue syndrome says her symptoms returned after contracting COVID earlier this year
- AMA Queensland says the findings should be independently verified and that more funding should be made available for such research
The work is being led by Professor Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik and the team at Griffith University’s National Center for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases (NCNED).
“This is the first of its kind in the world to identify a biological coincidence of dysfunction in long-term patients with COVID and ME/CFS,” she said.
Dr. Marshall-Hradishnik said the damaged receptors, like a dysfunctional lock and key, don’t let enough calcium through.
“The receptors are located in every cell of the body,” she said.
“These ion channels, or the lock and key that’s trying to open the door—when we look at ME/CFS patients, that’s significantly disrupted.
“When we looked at the same receptor [in long COVID patients]we are now reporting the same change.”
The findings will be published in the Journal of Molecular Medicine.
Fast research and treatment
Dr. Marshall-Hrodishnik and the team at NCNED have been studying chronic fatigue for the past decade, but turned to long-term COVID after noticing similarities between the two illnesses.
More than 9.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Australia since the start of the pandemic.
Dr. Marshall-Hradishnik said about five percent of those with long-term illness have COVID.
“This can be a public health priority, and it has significant implications for the health care system in the long term,” she said.
She said the focus now is on developing a high-throughput test that she hopes will become widely available.
“We’ve identified these receptors and introduced certain drugs into the lab that are well known, have incredible safety data, and target these receptors,” said Dr. Marshall-Hradishnik.
“We understand the pathology of ME/CFS and given this overlap with long-term COVID, we now need to accelerate our research and implement further treatments over a period of time.”
“sent me back”
Kathy Dullest was first diagnosed with ME/CFS more than 20 years ago and said she had a relapse after contracting COVID-19 in April.
“It set me back – I still suffer from it,” she said.
She said the symptoms are the same.
“I’m really very weak again, exhausted from any movement,” said Ms. Dalest.
“I get out of breath, I walk far, and it’s associated with exhaustion, pain, and trouble sleeping.”
Ms Dalest, an active member of ME/CFS support groups, said she had noticed people with long-term COVID starting to reach out for support.
She said the results and the possibility of a cure for lingering COVID give hope to those affected.
“Especially to young people who know that their future is lost in a way,” she said.
Research should continue: AMA
Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland president Maria Boulton, a GP who treats people with long-term COVID and CF/MES, said the study could make a real difference to people’s lives, but the results needed to be independently verified.
“We know that both diseases affect patients to the point where some have daily symptoms and some can’t go to work,” she said.
“It is very important that such research continues.
“Usually with research, there’s a process where the data is reviewed and of course independently verified to make sure it’s all what it’s supposed to be.
“It is important to allow this process to continue.”
Dr Boulton said health and medical research in Australia was not as well funded as in the US and UK.
“We’re lobbying for more research funding because it’s really important that we’re ahead of the curve,” she said.
She said AMA Queensland had called on the state government to carry out more research into long-term COVID.
“We knew this was going to be an issue affecting Queenslanders when the borders opened last year,” she said.
“There are currently no guidelines that we GPs should follow when helping our patients with prolonged COVID.”