Myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex and serious debilitating medical condition with a diverse range of symptoms.
The most well-known symptoms are profound physical fatigue and mental fatigue, while others include pain, disturbed sleep patterns and gastrointestinal problems. Each patient experiences their own personal combination of symptoms, but certain ones dominate.
Building our portfolio of ME/CFS research has been a high priority for MRC for a number of years.
This highlight notice, which has been in place since 2003, seeks to encourage high-quality funding applications to any of our research board grant or fellowship opportunities
MRC research strategy and funding history for ME/CFS
Through this highlight notice, applicants are invited to submit innovative research proposals that address the mechanisms underlying chronic changes related to ME/CFS in one or more of the areas shown below.
Applications should seek to improve mechanistic understanding in these areas through the study of cross-disease symptomatology, and pathways, in the clinic or laboratory.
There is evidence for a disturbance in innate and adaptive immunity in ME/CFS including:
- alterations in cytokine profile
- absolute and functional alterations in T cells and NK cells
- occurrence of autoantibodies and allergic reactions that may explain some of the manifestations such as fatigue and flu-like symptoms.
A number of infectious and environmental exposures have been associated as triggering these changes.
Headache, facial pain and myalgia are reported symptoms of ME/CFS that may involve altered sensory and cognitive processing in the relevant neural pathways.
Improved sub-phenotyping and stratification of ME/CFS
ME/CFS is often considered a broad-spectrum disorder or syndrome and, as in other disease areas, it may be that the causes and mechanisms underpinning diverse symptom profiles are different.
Better patient phenotyping and stratification could provide valuable new insights into the natural history of the disease and enable the development of more effective, better targeted treatments.
Mechanisms of ME/CFS in children
The manifestations of ME/CFS in children represent a major clinical management challenge. There is a need for research aimed at improving understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the early onset of the disease.
This knowledge can then be used for the development and evaluation of new treatment options, as a prelude to their assessment in large-scale clinical trials.
There is now preliminary evidence supporting the view that inflammatory mechanisms in the brain and spinal cord may underlie the pathophysiology of some severe disease ME/CFS phenotypes. The availability of biobanks creates a unique opportunity for interrogation.
Multidisciplinary teams and partnerships
Additionally, this highlight notice aims to build on the success of the previous opportunities by:
- increasing capacity in ME/CFS research
- addressing the need for multidisciplinary teams to tackle the significant research challenges in this area.
Proposals submitted under this highlight notice should, therefore, involve partnerships between ME/CFS researchers and established, leading investigators working in relevant areas, but who are new to the ME/CFS field.
It is expected that those investigators who are new to ME/CFS research will make a substantial contribution to the project, to enable them to build their own track record in ME/CFS research.
MRC encourages (but does not require) applicants to work in partnership with other funders where appropriate. Depending on the project, applicants may wish to seek cash or in-kind support from charitable or industrial partners.