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Dr Lapp comments on the XMRV controversy


Senior Member
New Zealand
Comment on the latest XMRV controversy by Dr Charles Lapp, director of the Hunter-Hopkins Centre, North Carolina

From the July 2010 newsletter of the Hunter-Hopkins Centre

XMRV update: the controversy

Xenotropic Murine leukemia virus-Related Virus (XMRV) is an authentic and novel retrovirus that was first discovered in men with hereditary prostate cancer, but was subsequently described in up to 97% of individuals with CFS as well (Lombardi VC, Science, 23 Oct 2009). It is not clear, however, if XMRV causes CFS or is just associated with CFS (that is, it likes to settle in persons with CFS). Although many antiviral drugs have been considered for treatment of this virus, only four are currently considered possibly effective. So there is no known treatment at this time.

Controversy has developed because three subsequent studies from the UK (2) and the Netherlands failed to confirm the presence of XMRV in persons with CFS or in healthy controls. An elegant review of the subject (Silverman RH, Nature Reviews, June 2010) pointed out that this was not unexpected since these three groups used a variety of different techniques and human subjects.

Last week, two US government groups produced contradictory papers. Scientists at the FDA and NIH concluded from their research that XMRV is found in the blood of CFS patients (Alter H, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, unpublished). Speaking at a blood bank safety meeting in Zagreb, Croatia, Alter stated that his group confirmed the Lombardi study and described the data in the Science study as extremely strong and likely true, despite the controversy. Separately, scientists at the CDC concluded that they could not find XMRV in the PWCs (Switzer W, Retrovirology). In an unparalleled move, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS under Secretary Sibelius) requested both journals to hold publication of those articles, allegedly to get things straightened out (Wall Street Journal, June 30, 2010). While the official government explanation was that senior public health officials wanted to see consensus or at least an explanation of why the results were different, many patients and CFS researchers fear that the CDC is once again trying to discourage research in what seems to be a productive arena.

Based on findings by Drs. Lombardi and Alter, the American Association of Blood Banks has recommended that CFS patients be discouraged from donating blood. [Note: Hunter-Hopkins has always cautioned against this, as well as organ donation.]

On July 1, the CDC group jumped the gun by prematurely publishing a provisional summary of their findings in Retrovirology online. We will leave it to the reader to consider the bio-politics in play here!

So the XMRV issue remains controversial and up in the air much as the retroviral issue was in the late 1980s when we first discovered retroviruses in PWCs. Research was stifled at that time by opposing factions, and it has taken over 20 years and the resources of the Whittemore-Peterson Institute to bring this intriguing possibility back to light. We urge patients everywhere to support efforts to explore XMRV further.

[ found this on the MEA site]