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Cancer Drug Shows Promise for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By October 30, 2011

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Research Brief

New research suggests that the cancer drug Rituxan (rituximab) may be an effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. The findings also add support to the theory that chronic fatigue syndrome is an autoimmune disease.

Rituxan is a biologic drug that lowers levels of B cells in your immune system. This is called B-cell depletion, and in addition to cancer, it's being investigated for multiple autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

B cells essentially mark other cells for termination by the immune system. In the case of autoimmunity, they wrongly mark cells from a particular part of your body (which varies by disease) and the immune system starts to attack them.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled study, published earlier this month in PLoS ONE, showed improvement in 10 out of 15 participants. It took between 2 and 7 months for the improvement to begin, in spite of early B-cell depletion. Researchers say that's consistent with autoimmune activity due to the gradual elimination of autoantibodies created by B cells.

For 4 people, the improvement continued after they stopped taking the drug. Researchers say no one in the study experienced serious side effects.

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October 30, 2011 at 10:15 am
(1) Rachael says:

One of the the nice things to come out of the study was an apology for the way CFS patients have been treated.

“The publication of the current paper prompted the Norwegian Directorate of Health, in the first statement of its kind ever from a federal agency, to apologize for the poor treatment that ME patients have received at their hands.

I think that we have not cared for people with ME to a great enough extent. I think it is correct to say that we have not established proper health care services for these people, and I regret that.

Hopefully this will be the first of many apologies over the upcoming years for the astounding lack of care and attention given this the many people with this disorder from all quarters.”


November 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm
(2) AIDAN WALSH says:

I believe the reason that Minister came forward with an apology is most likely due to the fact that this illness has already touched base with a family member or close friend or even possible she has the illness as well…The only time I see doctors or scientists saying something good about the illness or becoming believers is when they come down with the illness…I could name here a long complete list of all these doctors/scientists who have now become what they say are world class researchers and are actually hiding behind their illness and also remember these same doctors prior to cfs symptoms dismissed patients by the 100′s and probably laughed behind their backs as well…I have seen more than my share of complete charlatans over the years and truly wish they would just go away…They do absolutely nothing good for patients except sell their useless books for profits…One thing I truly adore with Gail Kansky is her team puts 100% of money directly into serious ongoing constructive research and not like the other charlatans who live the high life off of sick individuals desperate to have their lives back…

November 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm
(3) Rachael says:

Yes Aidan, I totallly agree! Unless CFS affects them or someone in their family they have no idea of just how devastating and life-altering CFS can be. I, like you have lived with this illness for a long time and its been quite a wake-up call, as I sure it has been for you too. Let’s hope the research continues going in the right direction!

Best wishes, Rachael

October 31, 2011 at 7:46 am
(4) Brett says:

So what’s the usual procedure here? Would the drug company usually initiate on its own, wait for confirmation studies, etc., and on what timeline? Should be faster for an existing drug no doubt, but how long does that approval take? I know it is early, but sure would be nice to have some idea of what to expect for timelines toward any possible confirmation…

November 4, 2011 at 3:30 pm
(5) ellenk says:

I have CFS. My sister has mantle cell lymphoma (involves B-cells). One of her drugs is rituxin, and it has been shown that those patients who have rituxin included in their protocol are most likely to go into remission.

November 8, 2011 at 12:07 pm
(6) Ginny says:

There is another drug that modulates B cells, and it does so without wipeing out all of the exisiting B cells, like rituximab. Few doctors know about Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) an it’s effect on the bodies immune system, because it is an old out of patent drug, and nobody stands to make a profit from its use. A small study was done at Stanford, that shows LDN is effective for fibromyalgia. Find the study and watch the video at http://www.ldnscience.org.

January 7, 2012 at 11:08 am
(7) Sarah says:

What about GcMaf? Only two doctors, to my knowledge, are studying it in people with ME. It’s for cancer, etc. and seemingly harmless. Google it. Sounds promising, and I’ve met quite a lot of people trying it (Pity that it’s out of pocket since no actual research studies with gov’t backing are occurring – no surprise!) who are feeling improvements without any adverse reactions – people of a wide age range. Here’s hoping! :)

January 16, 2012 at 9:25 pm
(8) lynne says:

I have just been diagnosed with CFS and have been put on Amitryptyline (Elavil) 3 tablets of 25mg daily. I am still working towards this and only take one tablet daily at night. I have been told to stick to this medication as the best result is in longevity but I have to say I feel awful, light headed, cramping and now a total lack of energy. An alternative drug would be wonderful.

I just wonder how accurate specialists are when making a diagnosis. I only have some of the symptoms listed and have others that are not.

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