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Gibson Inquiry: Britain’s Medical Research Council Has Lacked “Open-minded” Approach to ME/CFS


(December 2006. Craig Maupin at

Advocates for ME/CFS in Britain say they received a much-needed boost from a report issued by a parliamentary panel. Other advocates say the report’s calls for reform did not go far enough. The report, issued by The Group on Scientific Research into Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (GSRME), debuted to positive reviews from many scientists and clinicians. Chaired by Dr. Ian Gibson, the panel spent roughly twelve months gathering written and oral testimony from medical experts and scientists. The group concluded that CFS/ME research has been plagued by a strong bias in funding decisions by Britain’s Medical Research Council. The group also expressed concerns about an inability to properly define ME/CFS – referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis in the United Kingdom.

Research definitions for CFS/ME have long been a contentious issue. The Oxford definition, which requires research subjects only suffer from mild fatigue for a prolonged period of time, is the predominant definition used for ME/CFS research in the U.K. However, the group said that the predominant research definition has been “very vague and focuses on fatigue” rather than the “symptoms of CFS/ME”. The panel cited concerns about this “integrative” approach, saying that “the knowledge we do have of the illness may have been gleaned from people who did not genuinely have the condition.”

The panel also recommended reforms for the way U.K’s research monies are allocated by the MRC (Medical Research Council) which allocates Britain’s public research funds. According the report, the MRC testified that “few good biomedical research proposals had been submitted”; however, the MRC also confirmed that it “has turned down 10 biomedical applications”. The group went on to say that the “Medical Research Council has invested over 11 million in research into ME/CFS but these have focused on the psychosocial aspects of the disease… No major biomedical research projects funded by the MRC have been brought to our notice.” British psychiatrists have staunchly maintained that balanced biomedical funding for predominantly women’s illness such as CFS could be counterproductive. In contrast, many CFS/ME advocates believe traditional gender attitudes, commercial interests, and inflexible personalities are a more likely cause for the imbalances in funding.

The group states that “CFS/ME is one of the most contentious illnesses in modern medicine….CFS/ME can be a severe, incapacitating illness and those who suffer from it may have their lives completely ruined.” The group called for more funding for research that could lead to biological diagnostic tests, saying that “in Britain, there has been a clear historical bias towards research into the psychosocial explanations of CFS/ME”. The report concludes that the in order for flagging confidence in the objectivity of the U.K’s research for CFS to be restored, the MRC “should assign at least an equivalent amount of funding to biomedical research as they have done to psychosocial research.”