Dr Zack Shan has been granted $1.2 million to help find the underlying cause of chronic fatigue syndrome and help diagnose it faster.
Dr Zack Shan has been granted $1.2 million to help find the underlying cause of chronic fatigue syndrome and help diagnose it faster.

Researcher granted $1.2m to help ‘invisible’ illness

A COAST researcher has been granted $1.2 million to help find the underlying cause of chronic fatigue syndrome and diagnose it faster.

Dr Zack Shan, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, was awarded the prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council grant to investigate the neurobiological factors that cause the debilitating illness.

Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome is often described as an "invisible" health condition and affects between 94,000 and 242,000 Australians.

Symptoms include extreme exhaustion, headaches and sore or aching muscles.

No single test is available to diagnose the illness and no approved treatment or cure exists.

The five-year research grant will support Dr Shan further explore his recent hypothesis that abnormal neurovascular coupling may be the underpinning cause of chronic fatigue syndrome.

"Neurovascular coupling - known as NVC - refers to the regulation of cerebral blood flow to match brain activity, which is critically important for normal brain function," Dr Shan said.

"The grant will allow us to develop innovative neuroimaging practices to help accurately assess NVC and test our hypothesis."

Dr Shan said the ultimate objective was to uncover a diagnostic neuromarker that could be used to definitively diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome.

"As many as 80 per cent of patients who suffer from chronic fatigue say they've struggled to get a diagnosis and were often depressed because of a lack of a diagnostic test and medical understanding of the disease processes," he said.

"Understanding the brain disease process of the illness will help us to design biologically based therapeutic interventions and make the journey to diagnosis easier for patients."

Dr Shan said the world-leading study would help to advance the broader neuroimaging research field by offering a new way to investigate NVC dysfunction that also contributed to other major neurodegenerative diseases.

As chief investigator, Dr Shan will collaborate with four other experts in neurology, radiology and chronic fatigue, including American professor Vince Calhoun: a leader in developing techniques for making sense of brain imaging data.

Thompson Institute director Jim Lagopoulos said the National Health and Medical Research Council's Ideas Grant scheme was extremely competitive and supported innovative research projects that addressed a specific question.

"This announcement is a real testimony to the excellence of Dr Shan as a researcher and the innovative nature of the research being conducted at the Thompson Institute," Professor Lagopoulos said.


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