NIH Conference Debate On XMRV

Amy Dockser Marcus at The Wall Street Journal has been doing an excellent job in keeping ME/CFS & the XMRV debate in the media’s attention.  Yesterday, Amy posted about the latest 2-day NIH XMRV workshop in her article, At NIH Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Conference, XMRV Debate Heats Up.   Amy describes the conference as a “heated battle” over whether XMRV plays a role in ME/CFS.  She says in her article:

On one side was Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute, which led the scientific team that reported a link between the retrovirus XMRV and CFS in a 2009 paper published in the journal Science. She presented both published and unpublished data on how patients make antibodies to XMRV and ways the retrovirus leaves immune dysfunction “footprints in the blood.” She suggested it’s time to translate some of the findings into ways to help patients.

On the other side was John Coffin of Tufts University, presenting unpublished work done in his lab and at NCI suggesting that XMRV was generated during lab experiments growing human cancer tissue in mice and then got into patient samples through contamination.

Coffin made a personal statement he wanted to direct mainly to patients who have questioned the motives of scientists over the past 18 months who have been studying XMRV.  He said that scientists went into the study eager to help and he states that they were not directed by their employers on whether or not to find XMRV.  He continued to say that the scientists do not have any commercial interest in the outcome either way.  Coffin said:

“The statements are not only inaccurate, they are painful to read.”

While Coffin says he is still “willing to consider” an infectious agent as a cause for ME/CFS, he feels it is time to move on from the XMRV theory.

The referee in the fracas was Harvey Alter, part of a different group of scientists who found a family of retroviruses (to which XMRV also belongs) in patients with CFS. Alter said that he found Coffin’s data about the origins of XMRV “very convincing,” but questions the “next step” in Coffin’s suggestion, that the XMRV findings in patients are the result of contamination.

Alter pointed out that in the work he is involved with, the scientists constantly worry about the possibility of contamination, but have used multiple detection tests — including ones developed by Coffin’s group — and so far haven’t found any signs contamination has occurred.

There are supposed to be government studies in the process to resolve the XMRV debate once and for all.  NCI is doing a small study on 30 patients who had previously tested XMRV positive.  They are providing additional blood samples and extensive work-ups for the study.  A federally led scientific blood working group studying the potential impact on the blood supply is testing for XMRV in CFS patients and in healthy individuals.

What everyone is holding their breath on is what the results of a major NIH-sponsored study will reveal (see ‘World Class Viral Hunter’ to Head Up the Latest XMRV Study).  The study, which is being led by Ian Lipkin, is taking blood from a large number of ME/CFS patients and healthy individuals around the country to test for the XMRV virus.

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