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Health insurance news - ME could be caused by immune system defect

Health insurance customers who are diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome could be suffering with the illness because of an immune system defect, according to research.

The study, reported in PLoS One, suggested a faulty immune system could be to blame for the illness, as researchers found symptoms in some patients subsided after taking a cancer drug which inhibits the body's defence.

Doctors in Norway were alerted to the possibility of using immune system-inhibiting cancer drugs in 2004 when a patient with both Hodgkin's Lymphoma and ME was given the treatment and her fatigue syndrome improved for five months.

A total of 30 patients with ME were involved in the trial, which showed 67 per cent of the people receiving two doses of Rituximab - a cancer treatment - had their symptoms improve during the process.

Oncology consultant at the Haukeland University Hospital Oystein Fluge told BBC News that two of the patients had no recurrence of the symptoms and it completely changed their life around, while in others there was a varied response.

"I think the fact that patients responded to treatment, improved cognitive function, fatigue and pain makes us believe we're touching one of the central mechanisms," he added.

Dr Charles Shepherd, the UK ME Association's medical adviser said the results are very encouraging for people with the illness as the researchers seem to have confirmed that altering the immune system response could be an effective treatment for at least a small number of patients.

"They help to confirm that there is a significant abnormality in immune system function in this disease. We now need further clinical trials of such anti-cancer agents to see if other research groups can replicate these findings," he added.

According to the news provider, there are around 250,000 people in the UK that suffer from the illness and symptoms include extreme tiredness, problems with memory and concentration, as well as sleep disturbances.

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