By Dov Michaeli
That was a sad chapter in the annals of science, and more importantly -in the search for the real cause of this debilitationg disease. In a previous post on TDWI we suggested that “it’s time to move on”, which provoked some anguished, and some angry responses Science titled Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome a group of scientists, led by Dr. Judy a. Mikovits, of the Whittmore Institute, affilliated with the University of Nevada, Reno, reported:
“Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disease of unknown etiology that is estimated to affect 17 million people worldwide. Studying peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from CFS patients, we identified DNA from a human gammaretrovirus, xenotropicfrom patients.
In the October 8, 2009 issue of murine leukemia virus–related virus (XMRV), in 68 of 101 patients (67%) as compared to 8 of 218 (3.7%) healthy controls. Cell culture experiments revealed that patient-derived XMRV is infectious and that both cell-associated and cell-free transmission of the virus are possible. Secondary viral infections were established in uninfected primary lymphocytes and indicator cell lines after their exposure to activated PBMCs, B cells, T cells, or plasma derived from CFS patients. These findings raise the possibility that XMRV may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of CFS.”
Since then no fewer than 17 follow-up studies have failed to replicate the link between chronic fatigue and the retrovirus. Today, 12/23/2011, the journal Science issued a retraction of the paper.
The Washington Post quotes Bruce Alberts, the Editor in Chief of the Journal and a professor of molecular biology at The University of California, San Francisco:
“… While the retraction removes the original study from the scientific record, it can’t undo two years of expensive sleuthing, including a $2.3 million National Institutes of Healthstudy now underway” that is “searching for XMRV in 150 patients and 150 healthy subjects. … NIH will continue to support the study through its conclusion next year, said a spokeswoman for the NIH branch funding the study, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.” Alberts, however, said that “there was no reason to continue the NIH-funded study” and called the episode “a tragedy for science.”
Some people, especially those associated with the original flawed paper and the present NIH study, think the retraction is premature. In my opinion, if anything it is late. Much money was diverted from good resarch into the cause(s) of CFS to refute, and refute again, and again, the association of XMRV with the disease. Too many sufferers of this real disease had the false hope that retroviral drugs would help them. All sufferers of CFS are the real losers of this episode.
Solid data suggest that there is an immune/inflammatory association with the disease. Time to move on, and focus on the tantalizing clues already available.