Reports that a drug used to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer could also treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) have been refuted by a new Griffith University study.

To be published in BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology, the study by Griffith’s National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases (NCNED) concluded that the use of Rituximab in CFS patients could incur problems with their immune cells and is not beneficial as a potential treatment.

The Natural Killer (NK) cells have vital functions in fighting viruses, bacteria and tumours.

“We found that these functions were significantly impaired when exposed to Rituximab in CFS patients,” says Scientific Co-Director of NCNED, Professor Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik.

CFS — sometimes known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) — is a complex illness characterised by impaired memory and concentration, metabolic, cardiac, gut and immune dysfunction and debilitating muscle pain and fatigue on exertion (also known as neuroimmune exhaustion).

It is estimated that the prevalence rate of CFS/ME worldwide is between 1 and 2 per cent.

Related to the ion channels

The Gold Coast NCNED team has discovered the illness is related to problems in the ion channels that allow calcium into the body’s cells. Calcium is required by almost every cell in the human body and is vital in helping the immune system destroy a virus or infection.

The team has proven that patients with CFS/ME have lower levels of calcium coming into their cells, that their cells store less calcium and that this is the basis of their illness.

Professor Don Staines, Clinical Co-Director of NCNED, says: “These results are important as NK cells are already known to have impaired function in CFS patients, suggesting certain doses of Rituximab may not be beneficial for the treatment of this condition.”

“Undertaking an initial study has enabled us to secure additional research funding from the national competitive grants process from the Mason Foundation where we can now undertake a larger study using this drug in vitro to validate our novel findings,” says Professor Staines.

First author for these world-first scientific findings was PhD student, Ms Natalie Eaton. She will be presenting the study at an NCNED-sponsored conference later this year. The focus of the conference will be promoting greater understanding of pathology and pharmacothereapeutics for CFS, through a Research, Innovation, Discovery, Learning and Education (RIDLE) model.