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For decades, people with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and once as "Tapanui Flu", were labelled as depressed or told their symptoms were all in their heads.
However, two four-year studies by the University of Otago’s Emeritus Professor Warren Tate, and Dr Aniruddha Chatterjee have proven ME/CFS is not psychosomatic.
Prof Tate felt "incredibly fulfilled" to know that his long effort to establish the biological basis of the disease had been achieved.
About 25,000 New Zealanders had this "terrible, disabling disease".
Affected families had had to search for options, with little effective help from health and social services in New Zealand and elsewhere, he said.
His long fight for better understanding was linked to his own family’s 30 years of experience with the disease after his daughter Katherine Gibson-Tate had been first badly affected by it at the age of 14.
The two studies were published recently in the Clinical Epigenetics and the Journal of Translational Medicine.
The research had resulted from molecular studies on a small group of patients using the principles of personalised medicine.
Researchers had found "many changes in important physiological and biochemical pathways and systems.".
In the "powerhouse of the cell", the mitochondrion - responsible for making most of the energy required for our functions - many mitochondrial components were produced in higher amounts, and some in lower amounts in ME/CFS patients.
The Otago research was also an important step towards designing smart therapeutic options to alleviate the symptoms, Prof Tate said.