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09.12.16 - Estimating the disease burden of ME/CFS in the United States

Estimating the disease burden of ME/CFS in the United States and its relation to research funding

Mary. E. Dimmock  (Independent Researcher, Connecticut, USA),  Arthur A. Mirin  (Applied Mathematician, California, USA),  Leonard A. Jason (Director, Center for Community Research, DePaul University, USA)

Journal of Medical Therapy 2016


At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), burden of disease is an important factor in funding decisions along with such factors as scientific opportunity, the quality of the science, and the interest of researchers. Recent studies have quantified the burden for a number of diseases in the United States and the NIH has used that information to analyze how its own funding patterns correspond to disease burden. However, the burden of disease has not been quantified for myalgic encephalomyelitis, also called chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and is often underestimated due to a lack of research and the misperceptions about the nature of the disease.

Using the limited information in the literature, this paper develops a preliminary estimate of the disease burden of ME/CFS in the United States, using the World Health Organization’s Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) measure. The ME/CFS DALY estimate is then compared to the NIH’s 2013 analysis of research funding versus DALY across other funded diseases in order to estimate a level of funding for ME/CFS that would be commensurate with disease burden.

Even given the limitations arising from sparse data, this analysis demonstrates that federal research funding for this disease is far less than what would be expected by the burden of the disease. We conclude that the annual research funding for ME/CFS would need to increase twenty-five fold or more to be commensurate with disease burden. This level of funding would best leverage the growing interest of researchers and the significant scientific opportunities that exist to understand the pathology of this disease and to advance diagnostics and treatments.