Fibromyalgia is a condition that is as debilitating as it is mysterious, and it is very difficult to diagnose due to the lack of specific markers and symptoms, making it very easy to be confused with other diseases. All of this forces sufferers – according to several estimates, in the United States, around 2% of the adult population, i.e. more than 4 million people (with similar percentages also applying to European countries) – to go on lengthy pilgrimages involving various specialists, wrong diagnoses and painkiller abuse, in an attempt, at the very least, to relieve the worst symptoms of the illness, namely widespread and chronic pain, headaches, the sensation of stiff muscles, tiredness, anxiety, depression, difficulty in concentrating and memory problems. However, now, thanks to a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry by researchers from Ohio State University (USA), diagnosis could become easier. Using a technique called vibrational spectroscopy (which measures the energy level of molecules within the sample by simplifying them as much as possible), the researchers in fact were able to define a biochemical profile typical of the illness, identifiable with a simple blood sample, and relative to a set of proteins that appear to be highly specific.
The researchers took blood samples from 50 people with diagnosed fibromyalgia, 29 people with rheumatoid arthritis, 19 with osteoarthritis and 23 with systemic lupus erythematosus (all similar conditions, as far as several symptoms are concerned). A part of these blood samples was examined already knowing the illness of the patients from the offset, so that a “profile” for each of the illnesses (fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and lupus) could be drawn up using vibrational spectroscopy and other diagnostic techniques. The other blood samples, on the other hand, were tested blind (as stated by the researchers), i.e. without knowing to whom they belonged. Then, by applying the biochemical models that had been obtained using vibrational spectroscopy, the researchers were able to identify the patients with fibromyalgia and those with the other illnesses.
Tests will now be carried out on 150-200 people, and if all goes well the test could be standardised and made available to everyone within five years. In the meantime, the researchers are hoping to discover several proteins that are more important than others from among the many already associated with the disease, which could then be used as a unique marker or as a target for specific therapies.
Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by corriere.it on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.