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Fatigue syndrome takes its toll in US
Tuesday 18 October 2011
A CONTROVERSIAL chapter in the saga of chronic fatigue syndrome has ended with the dismissal of a high-profile US researcher, along with the theory the debilitating disorder is caused by a mouse virus.
Last week virologist Judy Mikovits was sacked from her position as research director of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease (WPI), a private organisation in Reno, Nevada. [See 7 October news item for details.]
Both argue the XMRV story illustrates why patients and doctors must remain sceptical of such claims until they're replicated.
As stated in the 2002 guidelines, CFS describes a pattern of disabling symptoms -- such as pervasive tiredness and lack of energy -- that persist beyond six months and have no known cause.
Hence, the excitement in October 2009 when, along with a dozen other researchers, Mikovits reported evidence for the XMRV-CFS link in Science.
But late last month they "partially" retracted the paper following the discovery by two co-authors that the CFS blood samples they analysed were contaminated with a laboratory form of XMRV. In the same, September 22 edition of Science, a working group, established after their 2009 paper, reported that its nine-laboratory study failed to find evidence of XMRV infection in blood from CFS patients or healthy donors.
Both Mikovits and WPI head Annette Whittemore claim Mikovits's dismissal isn't related to the scuttling of the XMRV theory.
There are now unproven claims that a figure in the 2009 paper was misrepresented.
And Mikovits tells Science she was fired, in part, over a disagreement about WPI's decision to sell a diagnostic test for US$500.
"I said no, no, no, no," she tells Science, claiming confirmation was needed to guarantee the test detected XMRV. Without explanation, WPI has stopped offering the test.
"I feel bad for Judy [Mikovits]," says Lloyd, who worked with her at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland. "She got trapped by this difficult disorder and the damned XMRV."
He adds that laboratory scientists without clinical experience are prone to "misapply" findings to CFS.
"We have to steel ourselves that it's not going to be easy to understand the complexity of the condition," Lloyd says.
The above originally appeared here.
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