HSPH researchers pursue risk factors for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Study part of collaborative effort to boost understanding of disorder

Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) is among several leading research institutions collaborating on new research projects to better understand chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). HSPH received funding from the newly formed nonprofit organization, Chronic Fatigue Initiative, Inc. (CFI), as part of a plan, announced September 15, 2011, to provide over $10 million for CFS projects through 2014 at multiple institutions, CFI executive director Scott Carlson told the Wall Street Journal.

The projects, funded by the Hutchins Family Foundation, aim to identify the causes and treatment of CFS, a debilitating illness that affects more than one million people in the United States. The exact cause of CFS has eluded researchers since it was first identified in 1985. The disease, which includes such symptoms as overwhelming fatigue and cognitive difficulty, usually is diagnosed by ruling out other conditions. CFS often carries a social stigma because so little is known and some have questioned whether it is a disease, Carlson said.

At HSPH, the Chronic Fatigue Initiative Epidemiology Project aims to identify a large sample of men and women with CFS and to study their environmental exposures and pre- and post-onset blood samples. The study will draw on epidemiologic data from three ongoing HSPH studies, including more than 20 years of longitudinal bio-samples from nurses and other health professionals.

“The Nurses and Health Professionals cohorts provide a unique setting for the investigation of CFS, because the participants in these investigations have provided detailed information on their lifestyle and medical history longitudinally for over two or three decades,” said Alberto Ascherio, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH and leader of the Chronic Fatigue Initiative Epidemiology Project. “A large proportion of these participants have provided blood samples, in some cases before the onset of CFS. We expect that this investigation will provide new insights on possible risk factors for this potentially debilitating condition.”

Other plans by CFI call for the creation of a central bio-bank for blood and other biological specimens and the development of a cohort of 200 patients and 200 healthy controls for studies.

CFI, based in New York City, seeks to jumpstart and to sustain critical research by providing investigators and academic institutions with access to funds and a mechanism to ease collaborative study, enabling the best minds to drive new solutions, according to a press statement.

Read the Wall Street Journal story

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New Initiative Fuels Fight Against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFI press release)