Photo by Randall Gee

Patients are given a heart-rate monitor to help monitor their exertion and are shown how to properly use it when they visit the Fatigue Lab.

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Science and Technology

Hope for the Weary

Internationally recognized research conducted by faculty and students in the Pacific Fatigue Laboratory is giving hope to those with debilitating illnesses.
Linda DuBoisFeb 17, 2012

The Pacific Fatigue Lab (PFL) is a research, clinical and teaching laboratory that studies fatigue-related illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). Founded in  2007, PFL is operated through the Department of Sport Sciences.

CFS/ME is an incurable, debilitating illness that is difficult to diagnose. At PFL, individuals with CFS/ME - often dismissed as malingering or depressed by family members, insurance companies and even physicians - are receiving objective, clinical validation that they indeed have a disabling illness, important for both psychological and practical reasons.

Revolutionizing the Field of CFS/ME Research
PFL provides a comprehensive disability evaluation that measures heart, lung and sympathetic nervous system function, metabolic function and cognitive processing time. Testing includes an 8-12 minute exercise stress test. However, a difference in Pacific's testing protocol is that patients are also re-tested the next day. This factor has revolutionized CFS/ME research.

Staci Stevens
Staci Stevens '91, '97

"Those with CFS/ME are the only patients who score significantly worse the second day," says Staci Stevens '91, '97, PFL founding executive director. Research has proved that, regardless of health level, a person will score about the same on both days when taking a stress test two days in a row. "CFS/ME patients do not recover normally from physical exertion."

From test results PFL researchers provide an extensive evaluation to help the patient manage their illness and to educate physicians and attorneys. For some, it is a financial lifesaver; helping them obtain disability benefits they were previously denied. Each patient also receives an heart-rate monitor to help them manage exertion levels and prevent a flare-up.

PFL is the only place that offers this comprehensive service, and only two centers have implemented its exercise testing, one at Ithaca College in New York and one at a university in the Netherlands. Consequently, the lab has drawn patients from as far as Chile and Japan. This includes people with illnesses other than CFS/ME, such as HIV, multiple sclerosis and cancer, who increasingly must prove they are unable to work.

"We do have a reputation that goes beyond the United States, which is quite unique for a small institution like this," says Christopher Snell, sport sciences professor and PFL scientific director. Stevens and Snell have both served on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Advisory Committee, which Snell has chaired for the past three years.

Students Gaining Real-World Experience
Both undergraduate and graduate students are involved through every aspect of the research and testing process. Students work with patients, review medical history, measure height, weight and blood pressure, conduct the lab testing, and compile the results into a report.

Ben Larson"I've learned how to work with people and patients. At first I was a little bit shy, but now I've gotten comfortable enough that it's second nature."
Ben Larson '12
Lab Assistant
View Ben's Profile

Students Conducting Lab TestsMany of the students have presented their research at major conferences. Lab assistant Ben Larson '12 recently presented his research at the International Association of CFS/ME (IACFS/ME) conference. Graduate Harnoor Singh '07 has presented research at the American College of Sports Medicine conference and was named Student Researcher of the Year at the IACFS/ME annual meeting.

Singh and Larson agree their experiences in the Pacific Fatigue Lab are invaluable preparation for their future in health-related careers. Singh, now in medical school, was particularly affected by clients' frustration at being repeatedly dismissed by doctors. He says it has taught him the importance of listening and being sensitive to patients.

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about the author

Linda DuBois  

West Sacramento-based journalist Linda DuBois has been a writer and editor for 25 years.