By Deborah Condon An international expert on ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is to give a series of talks throughout Ireland in September. ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, affects the immune and central nervous system and is characterised by debilitating chronic fatigue. Other symptoms can include muscle and joint pain, sleep disturbances and poor concentration. An estimated 12,000 Irish people are affected, however as the cause is not fully understood and there is no specific test for it, it is often misdiagnosed. Professor Basant Puri is a consultant at the Hammersmith Hospital in London. He has conducted pioneering research into the brain chemistry of people with ME and has also studied the use of fatty acids to help treat people affected by this condition. In 2002, Professor Puri and his team from Hammersmith published the first systematic study on people with ME, which made use of a type of brain-imaging technology called MRS. This technology can measure chemicals in the brain. The results showed a difference in the chemistry of the brains of people with ME, compared to healthy volunteers. They found that those affected had higher levels of a substance called choline. These findings suggested a problem with fatty acid metabolism in the brain. Similar results were found in a study subsequently published by a team in Scotland. They also found higher levels of choline in the brains of people with ME. Furthermore a Japanese research team found high levels of choline in those affected as well. According to Professor Puri's findings, the increased levels of choline that were found in the brains of patients with ME were 'precisely what we would expect to see following a major viral infection'. "There are many features of CFS that are consistent with it being caused by an infectious agent such as a virus", he has said about the illness. As a result of his findings, Professor Puri believes that a fatty acid supplement, particularly with a high level of EPA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, could benefit ME sufferers. He believes that such a supplement could have a beneficial action on the chemical imbalances in the brain. As well as this, EPA has anti-viral properties and it helps with sleep, a common complaint of ME. Some of Professor Puri's own patients have already benefited from taking supplements with certain fatty acids. In his talks, he will discuss among other things, the history of ME, research in this area and the use of fatty acid supplements. These talks have been organised by the Irish ME/CFS Support Group. Their details are as follows: -September 26 (Monday) in the Granville Hotel in Waterford at 7pm. -September 27 at the Royal Dublin Hotel in Dublin's city centre at 7pm. -September 28 in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel in Athlone at 7pm. -September 29 in the Harbour Hotel in Galway at 7pm. All talks are open to the public and are free of charge. For more information on the talks or any aspect of ME, contact the Irish ME/CFS Support Group at (01) 235 0965 or write to PO Box 3075, Dublin 2.