Grant boosts hopes of finding biomarkers for CFS

Prof Warren Tate and PhD student Angus Mackay, of the University of Otago biochemistry department, pursue new research involving ME, also called chronic fatigue syndrome. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Prof Warren Tate and PhD student Angus Mackay, of the University of Otago biochemistry department, pursue new research involving ME, also called chronic fatigue syndrome. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Lottery Health Research grants totalling $126,200 have boosted University of Otago researchers Angus Mackay and Prof Warren Tate's hopes of finding a diagnostic blood test for chronic fatigue syndrome, once called Tapanui flu.

Otago University researchers have gained about $1.86 million overall in new funding for 34 research and/or equipment grants and three PhD scholarships in the latest annual grants from the Lottery Grants Board, to pursue research aimed at improving the health of New Zealanders.

Throughout the country, about $4.14 million - comprising 75 grants- was distributed in the Lottery Health Research 2012-13 funding round. Otago University had gained more than $1.47 million in grants in Lottery Health's previous annual grants in 2011-12, which had totalled about $3.36 million.

Scots-born Mr Mackay and his biochemistry PhD supervisor, Prof Tate, have very good reasons for trying to find molecular biomarkers for myalgic encephalomyelitis, commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Mr Mackay (52), who gained an $85,000 PhD scholarship, has experienced ME since the age of 35, and a close member of Prof Tate's family has also long had the condition.

The syndrome was ''complex, debilitating, life-changing and, in most cases, lifelong'', Prof Tate said.

''There is no specific diagnostic blood test or effective treatment.

''This highlights the urgent need to find specific biomarkers to differentiate ME/CFS from other treatable disorders involving fatigue and to expedite the search for specific therapies.''

About 20,000 New Zealanders were affected by ME, with an estimated economic cost of about $40,000 for each affected family, he said.

Mr Mackay said ME had prevented him from pursuing his passion for school teaching but he was now determined to learn much more about ME, including how to detect it in blood.

Other Otago University recipients of Lottery Health grants.-Prof Cliff Abraham, psychology, $37,600; Dr Andrew Bahn, physiology, $11,700; Dr Biju Balakrishnan, pharmacy, $46,800; Prof Antony Braithwaite, pathology, $66,600; Dr Andrew Clarkson, anatomy, $90,000; Dr Dawn Coates, $37,300, Prof Bernadette Drummond, $17,000, Associate Prof Warwick Duncan, $23,800, Prof Mauro Farella, $49,500, all oral sciences; Dr Kirsty Fairbairn, human nutrition, $3188; Dr Elspeth Gold, anatomy, $26,500; Dr Regis Lamberts, $67,500, Dr Rajesh Katare, $27,600, both physiology; Dr Lynnette Jones, physical education, $24,700; Dr Kirsten Lovelock, preventive and social medicine, $45,000; Meredith Peddie, human nutrition, $52,700; Associate Prof Russell Poulter, biochemistry, $71,600; Dr Euan Rodger, pathology, $54,000; Dr Daryl Schwenke, physiology, $35,235; Prof John Sullivan, physiotherapy, $49,500; Dr Sebastien Taurin, pharmacology and toxicology, $50,000; Dr Lisa Te Morenga, human nutrition, $90,000; Prof Vernon Ward, microbiology and immunology, $40,000; Dr Timothy Woodfield, orthopaedic surgery and musculoskeletal medicine, $90,000; Dr Yiwen Zheng, pharmacology and toxicology, $25,600. Christchurch campus: Dr Gillian Abel, $51,400; Prof Andrew Day, $79,700; Dr Claire Heppenstall, $45,000; Dr Jennifer Jordan, $39,400; Dr Timothy Prickett, $90,000; Dr Tracy Melzer, $48,600. Wellington campus: Prof Anthony Dowell, $51,200; Inga O'Brien, $26,800. PhD scholarships: Victoria Farmer, medicine, $85,000; Lindsay Robertson, preventive and social medicine, $85,000.