New studies find no link between retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome

This week, an additional two groups are reporting they were unable to find any evidence of XMRV, a retrovirus, in various groups of people, including those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

The pair of studies, published online in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, come a year after a team of scientists led by Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease reported finding evidence of the retrovirus far more often in people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome than in their healthy peers.

The study suggested a link between the retrovirus and the disease, which has confounded physicians, scientists and especially patients for decades. Many patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome embraced the original study, and some have even starting taking potent antiretroviral drugs intended to treat people infected with HIV.

Yet the number of research teams unable to replicate the original study is growing, and so far no team has published a replication of Mikovits’ findings.


Before this week, six teams, including scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have reported in scientific journals that they were unable to find XMRV in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

This week, a group led by Dr. Athe Tsibris of Harvard Medical School reported finding no evidence of XMRV in 32 chronic fatigue syndrome patients, 43 patients with HIV, 97 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 26 patients who had organ transplants and 95 patients presenting for general care.

“We found nothing,” Tsibris said in an interview Wednesday morning. “I would say that is the largest surprise for us. We could not detect XMRV in any sample.”

Tsibris said his team replicated the techniques used by Mikovits and her team. “We did exactly what they described and more,” he said.


Another group, led by Dr. John Frater of Oxford University, reported this week finding no evidence of XMRV in 230 patients infected with HIV or hepatitis C.

In an editorial accompanying the papers, Mary Kearney and Dr. Frank Maldarelli, both of the National Cancer Institute, urged caution to those prescribing antiretrovirals to desparate patients.

“At this time, such an approach is premature and medically indefensible outside the secure oversight of a well-controlled, clinical trial,” they wrote. “Indeed, because they are of no help whatsoever to other patients, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, or regulatory agencies, such uncontrolled therapy works directly against the goal of providing effective therapy to the million or more individuals experiencing these serious conditions.”

--Trine Tsouderos / Chicago Tribune