Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a new blood test for the identification of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a debilitating condition that lacks a standard diagnostic test.

CFS sufferers can often have their symptoms written off as malingering, because the diagnostic test results for organ function and blood and immune cell counts all are normal in these patients.

The new test is based on how a person’s immune cells respond to stress. It is powered by a diagnostic technology that comprises electrodes to produce electrical current, and chambers to hold blood samples containing immune cells and plasma.

In the chambers, the presence of immune cells and plasma interferes with the current and changes its flow. This change in electrical activity is directly linked to the health of the sample.

The researchers used salt to stress the samples from healthy individuals as well as patients, and compared their effect on the flow of the electrical current. A greater change in current is associated with flailing of the immune cells and plasma.

“There is scientific evidence that this disease is not a fabrication of a patient’s mind. We clearly see a difference in the way healthy and chronic fatigue syndrome immune cells process stress.”

Stanford University School of Medicine biochemistry and genetics professor Ron Davis said: “We don’t know exactly why the cells and plasma are acting this way, or even what they’re doing.

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“But there is scientific evidence that this disease is not a fabrication of a patient’s mind. We clearly see a difference in the way healthy and chronic fatigue syndrome immune cells process stress.”

When assessed in 20 people with chronic fatigue syndrome and 20 individuals without the disease, the new diagnostic was able to accurately identify all patients and did not flag the healthy individuals.

Currently, the team is working on validating the test in a larger population.

The diagnostic is also said to have the potential to help in identifying possible drugs for the condition.

This will be possible by exposing blood samples to therapeutics and then performing the diagnostic test, which would offer information on whether the drug candidate improved the immune cells’ response.

The researchers have started evaluating the technology’s capability to screen for potential drugs.