UK Research Could Lead to Blood Test for Fibromyalgia

By Pat Anson, Editor

British researchers have launched a genetic study of fibromyalgia patients that they hope could lead to a new blood test to diagnose the disease.

Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood disorder characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, headaches, depression and insomnia. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat, and some doctors refuse to recognize it as a disease.

Scientists at King’s College London will study tissue samples and measurements taken from volunteers enrolled in Twins UK, a comprehensive study on the effects of genes, aging, disease and the environment on over 12,000 identical and non-identical twins.

Four hundreds twins are enrolled in the fibromyalgia study. In each set of twins, one twin suffers from chronic widespread pain, while the other does not. Tissue samples from both twins will be compared to try to identify biomarkers in their DNA associated with chronic pain.

"Our research will help patients in two ways. First it'll contribute to our understanding of how fibromyalgia – and other chronic pain syndromes such as irritable bowel syndrome – develop, and point to pain pathways which we may not have suspected,” said lead researcher Dr. Frances Williams.

"Secondly, we hope it'll lead to identification of a biomarker which we could work into a blood test."

Fibromyalgia is believed to have genetic influences, but researchers say there are many complicated steps between the genes that may contribute to fibromyalgia and the condition itself.

The study will focus on identifying markers in DNA that are associated with the “switching” on or off certain genes. DNA switching is important to health, as it prevents inappropriate processes from occurring in the body when they should not. Identifying those markers could then lead to a blood test.

“As well as enabling the condition to be diagnosed more effectively, it could help to ‘stratify’ patients into groups depending on disease severity, which will help in clinical trials of potential new treatments. It might even help us predict how the condition will progress,” said Williams.

A bioresearch company based in Santa Monica, California is already marketing a blood test that it claims is 99% accurate in diagnosing fibromyalgia.

EpicGenetics introduced the blood test in 2013, calling it the first definitive test for fibromyalgia.

The FM test looks for protein molecules in the blood called chemokines and cytokines, which are produced by white blood cells. Fibromyalgia patients have fewer chemokines and cytokines in their blood, according to the company, and have weaker immune systems than normal patients.

The blood test costs several hundred dollars and results are available in about a week. Critics have said the test is unreliable and the same molecules can be found in people with other disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.