Griffith University researchers are hoping to find a treatment for Long COVID after proving the illness shares the same biological impairment as patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known internationally as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS)).
In a world first, their study suggests COVID-19 could be a potential trigger for ME/CFS and their 10 years of research on ME/CFS could help fast track understanding and treatment of Long Covid.
Griffith University’s National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases Director, Professor Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik, said the breakthrough findings will assist with investigations into therapeutic strategies to help both Long COVID and ME/CFS patients.
“Patients with Long COVID report neurocognitive, immunological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular manifestations, which are also symptoms of ME/CFS,” Professor Marshall-Gradisnik said.
“Our researchers have pioneered a specialised technique known as electrophysiology or ‘patch-clamp’ in immune cells.”
“This technique previously led the team to report on the pathology of ME/CFS and to examine specific ion channels in cells.
“These channels allow ions such as calcium to flow in and out of cells and thereby control many different biological processes.
“Patients can experience different symptoms depending on which cells in the body are affected – from brain fog and muscle fatigue to possible organ failure.”
Professor Marshall-Gradisnik and her team have been studying ME/CFS for more than 10 years. In 2020, they adjusted their research to include the impacts of COVID as patients started to experience remarkably similar symptoms.
Griffith University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Professor Lee Smith, said: “Long COVID is a significant public health issue and we are very proud of the exceptional science being developed here at Griffith and the contribution our NCNED team is making to the health and welfare of potentially millions of patients.”
The research is funded by a $4 million grant from the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation.
Stafford Fox Trustee Mr Ken Wallace said: “The Trust has been a long-term supporter of the NCNED team at Griffith University and the work they are doing to improve the lives of more than 250,000 Australians with ME/CFS — more than 60,000 of whom are bedbound or housebound.
“The Foundation is heartened by this research. It is devastating to think another 400,000 Australians could be struck down with Long COVID but we are delighted Australia is leading the world in scientific research to understand the pathology of these illnesses and to advance diagnosis and treatments.”
Already, more than 9.5 million cases of COVID have been reported in Australia and five per cent, or around 475,000, are expected to be left with long term illness.
The breakthrough findings will be published in the renowned international Journal of Molecular Medicine.