Reno researchers dispute British challenge to virus discovery

January 13, 2010

From the Reno Gazette-Journal, 13 January 2010 (Story by Lenita Powers)

Reno scientists who found a link between a retrovirus and people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are scoffing at a challenge from British researchers who claim the discovery was false.

Researchers at the nonprofit Whittemore-Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease at the University of Nevada, Reno made headlines worldwide last October when they reported discovering a new infectious human retrovirus, XMRV, in the blood of 68 of 101 people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In a story scheduled to appear Friday in the print edition of Science magazine, Myra McClure, a professor of retrovirology at Imperial College London, said her team of researchers examined DNA from the blood of 186 people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for XMRV and a closely related virus, but found neither.

“If there was one copy of the virus in those samples, we would have detected it,” McClure said.

But McClure and her team did not duplicate the scientific techniques used by the Whittemore-Peterson Institute in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and the Cleveland Clinic, Judy Mikovits, a lead researcher at the institute, said Tuesday.

“You can't claim to replicate a study if you don't do a single thing that we did in our study,” she said. “They skewed their experimental design in order to not find XMRV in the blood.”

The Whittemore-Peterson Institute issued a statement saying the British study was published after only three days of review as opposed to the institute study that underwent six months of vigorous peer review plus confirmation by three independent laboratories before it was published in Science magazine.

The statement also cited different techniques used in the British study that make its conclusions meaningless, including the use of a molecular plasmid control in water instead of a positive blood sample.

“They paid to have their study published in the Public Library of Science, and it was then picked up by Science (magazine),” said Mikovits said, who suspects insurance companies in the United Kingdom are behind attempts to sully the findings of the Reno study.

She said the Whittemore-Peterson Institute has been flooded with calls from patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome discouraged by the conclusions made by McClure and her team.

“They want to know if we are going to give up because a few people are attacking us, but no, we are not going to give up,” Mikovits said. “We are still trying to develop drugs to treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. That was our goal, and nothing has changed.”

The Whittemore-Peterson Institute continues to form new collaborations with researchers who are trying to replicate its study, said Annette Whittemore, president and founder of the institute.

“Our goal has always been to translate our research into diagnostics and therapeutics for patients,” she said. “We think XMRV is, at the very least, a biomarker for a subset of patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”


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