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XMRV testing shootout continues, but 'Nothing has changed,' Dr. Mikovits responds

  [ 43 votes ]   [ 3 Comments ] • January 13, 2010

"Sit tight,” leading U.S. ME/CFS experts counsel a confused global patient community.

Contradictory results are sure to emerge, they advise, from the multitude of studies - some collaborative, some not - that are now steaming ahead in a race to clarify the possible link between the XMRV retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The consternation began Jan 6...
With publication by researchers at Imperial College London of the paper “Failure to Detect the Novel Retrovirus XMRV in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” in the online publication PLoS ONE.

Other researchers and the science news media leapt on the controversy...
Just as they did when the initial Science article by Drs. Lombardi & Mikovits, et al. (“Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with CFS”) broke last October.

According to an article that Science posted online - also on Jan 6 (“Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Attacked Again” ):

“One distinct possibility, says John Coffin, a microbiologist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, who studies retroviruses, is that both papers are right. He called the PLoS ONE paper too ‘preliminary’ to settle the debate and said XMRV could show more genetic variety, and thus be harder to detect, than anyone assumed.” Another possibility, Dr. Coffin suggested, is that “distinct strains of XMRV appear in different parts of the world, like the retroviruses HIV and HTLV (a leukemia virus).” He also joins other researchers in suggesting that “CFS may be a ‘suite of diseases’ with similar symptoms and various causes” – i.e., that there are subsets.

In fact, the resulting exchange quickly became a shootout...
As The Economist described it  – “Zapp!... Biff!... Blam!... Splat!”

Among the first return volleys on Jan 6&7 were:

An expression of concern by the CFIDS Association of America, quoting their scientific director Dr. Suzanne Vernon, who stated "The new report from the UK should not be considered a valid attempt to replicate the findings described by Lombardi, et al. in the Sciencearticle."

A Whittemore-Peterson press release, stating that differences in techniques render the Imperial College team’s project a “failure” and its conclusions “meaningless.”

And within hours a long list of news sources rushed to report, including:

Medical News Today (“New virus is not linked to CFS, suggests UK research”)

Discover magazine (“Scientist Smackdown”)

BBC News (“Research finds no proof that a virus is the cause of ME”)

Later, on Wed, Jan 13...

The Reno Gazette Journal quoted Dr. Mikovits as commenting in response to the Imperial College team's report: "You can't claim to replicate a study if you don't do a single thing that we did in our study. They skewed their experimental design in order to not find XMRV in the blood.... We are still trying to develop drugs to treat CFS. That was our goal, and nothing has changed."

To follow the latest on XMRV:

• Join Dr. Judy Mikovits' Jan 22 Presentation and Q&A on XMRV, which will stream live from Santa Barbara. Dr. Mikovits is very enthusiastic, and plans to provide news about the current science, address some of the "myths" that have arisen, and preview plans for international testing and treatment trials.

•  Follow CFS research reporter Cort Johnson’s blow-by-blow coverage on PhoenixRising (,

• And visit's information-packed ME/CFS & FM Message Board.

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Article Comments Post a Comment

Posted by: Hippocrates7777
Jan 9, 2010
VESTED INTERESTS OF SIMON WESSELY One of the co-authors of this study, Simon Wessely, has a vested interest in the outcome of such virus studies. Simon has staked his entire academic career on the idea that neurological diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome are caused by purely psychological factors. Therefore Simon Wessely would be the last person you would want in a study like this: if he finds the virus in CFS patients, he shoots himself in the foot, and his career may never recover. So I wonder just how hard he looked for this XMRV virus. The odd thing is, the authors declared in this study that they have no competing interests: not true! It is very much in the interest of Simon Wessely to not find this XMRV virus. THEY ARE NOT STUDYING CFC PATIENTS Simon Wessely and company often use a different set of criteria to select the patients for their "CFS" studies (such as the Oxford Criteria). These selection criteria are set up so as to include lots of people that are just depressed, and do not have CFS at all. As a consequence, it is not surprising many studies, based on the Oxford Criteria or similar, find that patients do not have XMRV, or can be cured by antidepressants: they studied the wrong people. In other words, when Simon Wessely says "CFS", he actually is talking about "depression". Wessely loves to play language games, and frequently bends the definition of terms. You would be surprised how easily this fools people. The original XMRV research at the Whittemore Peterson Institute used the Canadian Consensus definition of CFS/ME. The advantage of these inclusion criteria is that they actually do select CFS patients.
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More on the politics and PR of studies and funding
Posted by: CWB
Jan 13, 2010
I appreciate the comments of Hippocrates7777, pointing out some of the politics of research. Those of us with ME/CFIDS are at the mercy of these significant forces. Another aspect of these political forces is public relations. I am thankful for the considerable influence of the Whittemore-Peterson PR team—the same company with the contract for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau—and am sincerely glad that they can leverage their contacts in mass media to draw attention to our illness, believing attention will generate funding for many important research fronts. At the same time, this PR-ability may not adequately present the state of the science. While the Whittemore-Peterson study published in Science magazine reported finding the XMRV virus “in 68 of 101 patients (67%) as compared to 8 of 218 (3.7%) healthy controls” (“Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome;” , a study published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology the year before with lead author Dr. John Chia found 135 of 165 patients (82%) tested positive for enterovirus as compared to 7 of 34 (20%) of healthy controls (“Acute enterovirus infection followed by myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and viral persistence,” J Clin Pathol doi:10.1136/jcp.2009.070466). These results are quite comparable, yet Chia’s study didn’t generate the same kind of publicity. I am a patient of Dr. Chia’s as well as one of the millions of people with this neuro-immune disease, and the thousands who follow the latest research. It is my observation, and not Dr. Chia’s, that the difference in the dissemination of results is the strength of the publicity department and not the strength of the findings. It leads me to wonder what other studies deserve greater attention and priority funding.
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Enough Already
Posted by: Earth
Jan 20, 2010
While it may be true that the XMRv shootout continues, kindly count me out. This volley of researchers findings and the egoes involved therewith are simply too much for me. This is painfully reminiscent of the cortisol study conducted @ the University of Michigan by Drs. Demitrack & Engleberg, et al, which was also touted as "breakthrough." After much to & fro, with raised expectations, nothing came of that "important" advance. In the intervening decades, I've only gotten increasingly disabled & the doctors went on to study something else somewhere else. I do not want to attend the sideshow of medical drama. I am too sick. Kindly get back to me whenever there's a reasonable expectation of an end to this Hell.
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