Open Medicine Foundation®
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ME/CFS and related chronic complex diseases

Red blood cell deformability in ME/CFS

The red blood cell deformability in ME/CFS project that we are funding will evaluate the ‘deformability’ of red blood cells as a potential biomarker for ME/CFS. Red blood cells (RBCs) are the most common cells in the blood. Their main role is to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, and this role depends in part on their ‘deformability’ / elasticity as they flow through small blood vessels. Alterations in RBC deformability have been associated with inflammation and diseases like sepsis, and some studies suggest that RBC damage occurs in ME/CFS. These observations along with new technology available for measuring RBC deformability prompted Dr. Ron Davis’ team at Stanford and their collaborators at San Jose State University to examine RBC deformability in ME/CFS.

In some very early data generated by this team, there are indications that RBC deformability is reduced in some ME/CFS patients. The ME/CFS RBCs tested so far seem to move more slowly and elongate less than healthy controls, according to tests with this new technology. We are funding a project to confirm these findings in additional patients, and to study RBCs using additional methods, including various types of advanced microscopy, to better understand why these differences exist. If these experiments are successful, they may establish a new biomarker for ME/CFS that could assist in diagnosis and possibly finding new treatments! 

Learn more about RBCs in this Khan Academy video: