Chronic-Fatigue Paper Called Into Question

Published May 31, 2011

| The Wall Street Journal

Editors of the journal Science have asked the co-authors of a 2009 paper that linked chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus called XMRV to voluntarily retract the paper.

But in written response Friday, study co-author Judy A. Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease said "it is premature to retract our paper." The letter was reviewed by the The Wall Street Journal.

The study raised patients' hopes that if a virus was linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, a treatment might be found. Public-health officials were alarmed by the possibility that supposedly healthy people might unknowingly be infected with a contagious retrovirus. The federal government began an ongoing effort to evaluate whether the nation's blood supply was safe, work that continues.

In the May 26 letter to Dr. Mikovits and her co-authors, also reviewed by the Journal, Science editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts and executive editor Monica Bradford cited concerns about the validity of the findings, saying other scientists hadn't been able to replicate them, among other reasons.

Dr. Mikovits, who confirmed the letters, said she hadn't received a response in return. Dr. Alberts and Ms. Bradford at Science couldn't be reached for comment.

After the 2009 study, other published studies showed that some anti-retrovirals approved for use in HIV might also be effective against XMRV. Some doctors began prescribing anti-retrovirals for chronic fatigue syndrome patients.

The concern about the blood supply led blood banks to bar patients with chronic fatigue syndrome from donating. An advisory committee to the federal Food and Drug Administration recommended last year that the FDA bar people with chronic fatigue syndrome from donating. The FDA hasn't weighed in on the recommendation.

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