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Press Release: 10 March: Wellcome Trust

Dx Revision Watch

Suzy Chapman Owner of Dx Revision Watch
Press Release

Wellcome Trust

March 10, 2010


Study fails to find link between chronic fatigue syndrome and virus


A study published in the journal 'Retrovirology' has failed to find
evidence of a link between chronic fatigue syndrome and a recently
discovered virus.

Chronic fatigue syndrome - also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis
(ME) - is estimated to affect around 250 000 people in the UK. It
can be a debilitating condition, with symptoms including chronic,
often severe, mental and physical exhaustion, muscle and joint pain
and cognitive difficulties. The causes of chronic fatigue syndrome
are unclear and the theories have often provoked controversy.

A 2009 study in the USA, led by Dr Vincent Lombardi at the Whittemore
Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Diseases found evidence of a
retrovirus known as XMRV in two-thirds of people with chronic
fatigue syndrome compared to less than one in 20 controls. This
strongly suggested a link between the virus and chronic fatigue

However, in a study funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC),
the Wellcome Trust and the CFS Research Foundation*, researchers
failed to replicate these earlier findings. This new study supports
research published earlier this year in the journal 'PLoS One'
which also failed to replicate Dr Lombardi's findings.

Researchers at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research and
St George's University of London used a technique known as PCR to
study 299 DNA samples from UK cohorts, including 142 samples from
people with chronic fatigue syndrome. PCR is a highly sensitive
method used to detect and amplify minute traces of DNA for analysis.
Despite using a very sensitive PCR technique similar to that applied
by Dr Lombardi and colleagues, the UK study failed to detect any
traces of XMRV.

The researchers then analysed blood samples from this group and a
further 28 samples from a second cohort (a total of 170 samples) to
look for the presence of neutralising antibodies against XMRV.
Detection of these antibodies would provide evidence of previous
XMRV infection. Only one sample (less than 1 per cent) was able to
neutralise XMRV.Although 25 out of 395 control samples (just over
6 per cent) were also able to neutralise the virus, in many cases,
this seemed to be a broadly acting, non-specific response suggesting
that serological studies may overestimate XMRV frequency.

Dr Kate Bishop, a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow
who led the study, comments: "Our study failed to replicate the
results of Dr Lombardi's study despite using what we believe to be
a more sensitive test. We found no association between XMRV and
chronic fatigue syndrome. However, chronic fatigue syndrome may
encompass a spectrum of different conditions providing a possible
explanation for this discrepancy.

"Chronic fatigue syndrome affects a large number of people and our
findings are likely to be very disappointing to these patients,
their families and their friends. It is important that we keep an
open mind about new scientific discoveries which point to possible
causes of this often very serious condition. Replication is an
important part of the scientific method and, as the initial
findings have not yet been replicated, I think it will be important
to develop standardised samples and assays for XMRV that can be
rapidly tested by different laboratories around the world."


Groom HC et al. Absence of xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related
virus in UK patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrovirology


Craig Brierley
Senior Media Officer
Wellcome Trust
T +44 (0)20 7611 7329
E c.brierley@wellcome.ac.uk

About the Wellcome Trust

We are a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary
improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest
minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our
breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the
application of research to improve health. We are independent of
both political and commercial interests.

About the Medical Research Council

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved
the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting
the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class
scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains
a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research.
The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial
muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs,
including the first antibiotic penicillin, the structure of DNA
and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded
scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of
the 21st century.

(c) 2010 Welcome Trust


*CFS Research Foundation Trustees and Research Committee


Ed: Note:

Dr Tim Harrison PhD, DSc, FRCPath. is a Trustee of the CFS Research Foundation and member of the CFSRF Research Committee.

Professor Stephen T. Holgate FMedSci, MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology, University of Southampton is a member of the CFS Research Foundation’s Research Committee.

Professor Holgate chairs the MRC’s “CFS/ME Expert Panel”.

Dr Jonathon Kerr is a member of the MRC’s “CFS/ME Expert Panel”.

Dr Paul Kellam BSc PhD, Department of Infection, University College London is a member of the CFS Research Foundation’s Research Committee and one of the project supervisors for the MRC funded UCL PhD Project:

Project title: A role for XMRV in human disease Division of Infection & Immunity, University College London: Project Supervisors: Prof G Towers; Dr P Kellam


It is not yet known whether the CFS Foundation intends to cease funding further UK studies into association of XMRV and CFS.

A statement by the CFSRF, published in December, last year, in relation to XMRV and the Lombardi study can be read here, on ME agenda: