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Both key papers on CFS retroviral involvement retracted, but Lipkin’s virus hunt proceeds

  [ 9 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • December 27, 2011

A multi-center research team is now searching for evidence of murine gamma retroviruses or other viral involvement in 150 well-defined, geographically diverse chronic fatigue syndrome patient samples. The study, led by Columbia University’s “virus hunter,” Ian Lipkin, and sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) expects to have results some time in 2012.

As Dr. Lipkin has suggested, CFS “smells like a viral disease,” and his lab will be using “next generation” genetic sequencing in the CFS study. (According to him, this technology has allowed identification of 500 new viruses so far.)

Meanwhile, Both the Lo-Alter and Mikovits Papers Have Been Retracted

On December 27, a paper by Shyh-Ching Lo, Harvey Alter, et al. (the Lo, Alter paper), published in August 2010 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,(1) has been retracted by the authors. Their paper reported finding human MLV-like retroviruses (members of the XMRV family) in 32 of 37 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients and 3 of 44 healthy blood donors.

All the authors signed the retraction statement, noting that their findings have not withstood the test of independent verification. (Still, they also note that they have found no evidence of contamination in their testing materials – and though they believe their previous findings could be reproduced in their own labs, at this point they don’t have enough “original CFS patient samples to do additional testing.”)

This follows news of the December 22 “editorial retraction” by the journal Science of the original October 2009 paper by Mikovits et al., which reported evidence of  XMRV in the blood of many CFS patients and some healthy controls.(2) The editors base their retraction on failure of subsequent studies in other labs to find XMRV in CFS patient samples, and the discovery by two authors of the Science report (at the Cleveland Clinic) of contaminants in materials/samples they used.

Expert Opinions Differ on the Contamination Question

On December 20, Wall Street Journal ME/CFS-tracker Amy Dockser-Marcus reported comments by a number of experts demonstrating that the issue of contamination is far from resolved ("XMRV: Raising the Issue of Contamination"). Tests used to detect XMRV can also detect mouse DNA, and mouse DNA is everywhere in labs. But past studies of XMRV in prostate cancer have found it integrated into patient DNA - and thus hard to explain as contamination.


1. “Detection of MLV-related virus gene sequences in blood of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and healthy blood donors.”

2. “Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV, in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.”

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