Long COVID: QLD researchers investigate link between illness and chronic fatigue syndrome
The “symptom overlap” between long-term COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome patients has prompted a team of researchers from Queensland to investigate whether the two diseases are essentially the same.
They are also trying to answer whether drugs for one disease can be reused to treat another.
Amid the infancy of research into the pandemic manifestations of long-term COVID, the team at the Menzies Health Institute at Griffith University on the Gold Coast has noted about 70 to 75 percent of myalgic encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/ CVS), is caused by viral infections.
Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik, a professor of immunology at the institute, said that while long-term COVID is only “just emerging” as a disease, it was clear that there are “some important symptom overlaps between ME and long-term COVID”.
“The overlap is neurocognitive impairment, similar to ME/CFS. There are also sleep disturbances (in both diseases), breathing disturbances, changes in memory, word choice, et cetera,” she told 7NEWS.
“However, we are now starting to work on what long COVID is in terms of a definition, including the underlying pathology that causes this long COVID phenomenon.”
The “symptom overlap” between long-term COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome has prompted researchers to investigate. File image. Credit: AAP
More research is needed to determine the full extent of the similarities, not only in symptoms but also in pathologies, of the two diseases, Marshall-Gradisnik said.
She said the emergence of long-term COVID – and the difficulties patients have in getting answers about their illness – has highlighted what patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have been experiencing for decades, with the disease previously misdiagnosed as depression.
What the research team will do, Marshall-Gradisnik said, is examine whether drugs they found had positive results in lab tests on ME/CFS are effective for treating long-term COVID.
Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik is a professor of immunology at Griffith University. Credit: 7NEWS
“What we’ve we’ve founders identified as ME/CFS have a default or a dysfunction in that receptor, and it’s incapable of bringing calcium into our body’s cells,” she said.
“It’s important because all cells have these receptors — so if we have a defective receptor, less calcium gets into the cell. So in heart cells, for example, that changes the heart function, and that’s (a symptom) reported in ME patients.
“We looked at possible pharmacotherapeutic interventions. We’ve used several interventions in the lab, primarily to test whether or not there was a change in those cells for ME/CFS patients.
“We have reported that there is a significant improvement in the functions of those cells”.
Marshall-Gradisnik is hopeful that the results of current tests will indicate whether long-term COVID patients have the same receptor dysfunction as ME/CFS patients.
But she has emphasized that the team is at an early stage in determining the similarities between the two diseases and that further research is needed.