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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