This will be unwelcome news for many, but a large and thorough study of XMRV in chronic fatigue syndrome just published in the Journal of Virology has turned up zero positive samples from people with chronic fatigue syndrome or healthy controls.
Many of the negative studies to come out in the last 18 months have been criticized -- and rightly so -- for claiming to debunk the original XMRV/chronic fatigue syndrome paper published by Lombardi et al, when in fact they fell short in many ways: they were rushed, they didn't use the same inclusion criteria, they didn't use the same collection techniques, they didn't use the same detection methods, control populations were too small, etc. That lead a lot of people in the patient community to believe that once again, important research on this illness was being wrongfully and maliciously discredited. The names attached to many of these studies brought the politics sharply into focus.
This study, however, identified the flaws with the previous studies. Researchers used both the Fukuda and Canadian criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome patients. They used the same collection techniques and multiple detection methods, including those used by Lombardi. Their control population was larger. They tested samples used in Lombardi as well. Their methods appear to be sound.
And still, they found no XMRV or other related MLVs. None.
So what's at the heart of this? What does it mean for XMRV research, and chronic fatigue research?
I'm anxious to hear what the Whittemore Peterson Institute (the group behind the Lombardi paper) is going to say about the new study. I have to think most of the scientific world is now going to abandon XMRV/MLVs, which means any future discoveries will face a mountain of doubt.
I'm certain some people will add this as kindling to the conspiracy bonfires. And while I have to admit there's been some shady work in the past, I don't personally believe that's what's going on with the latest study. I'm sure that makes the long-timers think I'm naive. I don't see the call for more XMRV research dying out any time soon, though, because people put a lot of hope and faith into it, and those are hard things to give up. (See: What If XMRV Isn't the Answer?)
This new research concludes with a statement about the wealth of other promising viral research and how those areas must continue to be explored. Only time will tell what happens there, but my personal belief is that we'll someday have proof that many different infectious agents, and combinations of them, are responsible for chronic fatigue syndrome. Is a retrovirus among them? Based on the specific immunological abnormalities in many, it certainly seems likely. Is XMRV that retrovirus? I hope we get enough solid research to say definitively either way. I still hope that it is, but I'm no longer optimistic about it.
Here's more information about the latest study:
- Abstract: Absence of XMRV and other MLV-related viruses in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- About the study & its methods: Ila Singh finds no XMRV in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome
UPDATE: The WPI has issued a statement in response to the new study: WPI Response.
Moving forward, recent attention has helped make it clear to the world that chronic fatigue syndrome is a devastating and widespread illness that's tied to immune dysfunction. XMRV isn't the only thing that gave it credibility as a "real" disease, and it's not the only direction in which scientists are looking. If XMRV does turn out to be a dead end, it doesn't mean we're back to square one.
Does this study shake your faith in XMRV? Do you see political agendas behind it? Had you already given up on XMRV? Leave your comments below!
Learn more or join the conversation!
- What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms List
- Chronic Fatigue vs. Chronic Fatigue SYNDROME
Photo © Indeed/Getty Images