From the Wall Street Journal health blogger, Amy Dockser Marcus, 20 January 2011
The controversy over whether XMRV is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome or other diseases continues, but a task force set up by a group that collects most of the nation’s blood supply is already looking ahead.
In a report issued last week, the AABB Interorganizational Task Force — comprised of blood banks, government agencies, non-profits and scientists and charged with examining the possible threat to the blood supply — points out that the scientific data on XMRV are “incomplete and conflicting” and that it’s still not known if blood recipients need to be worried.
One of the key challenges, the report says, is trying to figure out how the infection might work in blood donors who turn out to be asymptomatic carriers of XMRV. The report notes that patients infected with hepatitis C may not display any symptoms for decades, but can then go on to develop cancer or other serious diseases. “If XMRV/MLV is pathogenic, a similar long latency is conceivable,” the report states.
The most pressing issue is to identify which blood donors are infected with XMRV and then trace their previous donations to the recipients to see if they are also infected with the virus.
Some studies are already being planned to try to do just that, says Susan L. Stramer, executive scientific officer at the American Red Cross and a member of the AABB XMRV task force that issued the report.
Stramer tells the Health Blog that the Red Cross is trying to get a handle on the prevalence of XMRV in the blood supply.
One study will involve collecting donations from over 10,000 healthy people in six different geographic areas to look for evidence of XMRV or related viruses called murine leukemia viruses (MLVs), either through the detection of antibodies or the presence of small amounts of viral RNA. The tests will be run by Gen-Probe and Abbott Laboratories, two companies that have been developing tests for XMRV and MLVs. Sample collection will start soon.
The second study involves a linked donor-recipient blood repository that the Red Cross maintains. The group will be looking at 120 recipients who got blood from over 4,000 donors. Donors will be tested to see if they are positive for XMRV or MLVs, and then recipients will be tested to see if there was transmission of the virus through transfusions. The donor samples were collected in Connecticut. The study is being done in collaboration with the Yale-New Haven Hospital and is in the planning stages right now, Stramer says.
A spokesman for Gen-Probe says the company doesn’t want to comment on the studies until results are in.
Walt Kierans, divisional vice president of diagnostics research at Abbott, confirmed that the company is working with the American Red Cross on determining XMRV prevalence in blood donors.
Despite the confusion in the field, the Red Cross’s Stramer says, “It’s time to move forward.”