15. April 2013

Diagnosis: fatigue

Adlershof‘s JPT Peptide Technologies and Charité develop biomarker test

Like a never ending flu is how patients describe their mysterious disorder
About 300,000 people in Germany suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome – presumably, because it is difficult to diagnose. This might change, however, because now a biomarker test is being developed specifically for this purpose. It often starts with debilitating fatigue, followed by fever and then Pains in the muscles and joints. Like a never ending flu is how patients describe their mysterious disorder that is designated chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS. Yet this serious disorder has nothing to do with the harmless fatigue after the morning run. Doctors are finding it difficult to differentiate CFS from similar clinical characteristics like depression or burnout, and often the patients are not taken seriously. To date, neither the cause is known, nor is there a test that could diagnose CFS beyond a doubt. But this is going to change now: in a joint project with CFS experts at the Berlin university hospital Charité, the Adlershof company JPT Peptide Technologies GmbH is analysing the blood of CFS patients in their hunt for biomarkers that are characteristic of this disorder. This test is urgently needed. For want of a reliable diagnosis, many patients are not receiving the right treatment. Also the cause of CFS cannot be identified easily without tests. Potential candidates are infections, but the pathogens are unknown. Carmen Scheibenbogen, CFS expert at the Charité Institute for Medical Immunology, is researching for instance the Epstein-Barr virus as a potential cause. “The Charité has grounds to assume that certain bacteria or viruses could be responsible for, or at least characteristic of the misdirected immune system,” explained Ulf Reimer, head of research and development at JPT. Accordingly, JPT is analysing the blood of CFS patients in its search above all for protein sections (peptides) that originate from infectious microorganisms. In a pilot study with 31 CFS patients, the JPT-Charité team discovered indications that characteristic peptides supporting a reliable diagnosis can be found in the blood of CFS patients. With financial backing from ProFIT, the subsidy programme funded by the Investitionsbank Berlin, and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the team are now to comb through the blood from a large cohort of patients in the search for biomarkers. “We must examine an adequately large number of patients before we can identify patient groups with similar physiological causes and biomarkers,” explained Reimer. In doing so, JPT fixes countless peptides on a kind of specimen slide, a so called microarray. Theses peptides originate from many sources, including bacteria and viruses, and are suspected of having an effect on the course of CFS. “The array is then incubated with the diluted blood serum taken from the patients,” explained Reimer. In the end, the computer determines which of the peptides are common to all CFS patients. The chances of success – a CFS blood test – are not bad. JPT has already identified biomarkers for HIV, autoimmune diseases and cancer. By Sascha Karberg for Adlershof Special