Could this really — and finally — be the end for the alleged link between XMRV, also known as xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus, to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?
The title of the press release announcing a long-awaited study of the subject in mBio is blunt: “Viruses not to blame for chronic fatigue syndrome after all.” A quote in the release from Ian Lipkin, who led the study, is even more direct:
Lipkin says the National Institutes of Health wanted conclusive answers about the possible link. “We went ahead and set up a study to test this thing once and for all and determine whether we could find footprints of these viruses in people with chronic fatigue syndrome or in healthy controls,” says Lipkin. The study in mBio® puts the speculation to rest, he says. Scientists were wrong about a potential link between chronic fatigue syndrome and these viruses.
Retraction Watch readers may recall the XMRV-CFS story, which we started covering in May of last year when Science issued an Expression of Concern about one of the central studies supporting the alleged link. Controversy had swirled around the findings, along with sometimes bitter fights among scientists and activists, for some time by then. Jon Cohen and Martin Enserink wrote a great narrative of all this for Science in September 2011.
As the release for the new study, which included 147 people with chronic fatigue syndrome and 146 healthy subjects, notes:
The authors of this study include many of the authors of the original papers that reported finding XMRV and pMLV in the blood of CFS/ME patients. This is an important point, says Lipkin, as their participation should lend credibility to the pre-eminence of these newer results over the flawed earlier studies, which offered a certain amount of false hope to the CFS/ME community.
Indeed, Mikovits is second author of the paper.
Science, it would seem, has spoken, and found the XMRV hypothesis wanting, Lipkin notes in the release. But other lines of research will continue:
“[W]e are not abandoning the patients. We are not abandoning the science. The controversy brought a new focus that will drive efforts to understand CFS/ME and lead to improvements in diagnosis, prevention and treatment of this syndrome.”
In a statement sent earlier today to Retraction Watch, the CFIDS Association of America — CFIDS stands for chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome — sounded similar notes:
Over the past three years, more than 70 publications have followed the original report linking CFS to XMRV. This well-designed, expertly executed study from Alter, et al addresses weaknesses of past efforts, provides a conclusive answer and offers closure. The totality of published evidence indicates clearly that there should be no lingering concerns about XMRV/pMLVs infecting individuals with CFS, the general population or blood donors.
We are grateful to the scientists, physicians, patients and federal agencies that participated in this effort as well as more than 30 studies of CFS and XMRV that preceded it. The intense effort dedicated to exploring XMRV as a possible pathogen in CFS demonstrates that academic researchers and government labs around the world can rapidly mobilize resources when provided a promising lead. The CFIDS Association of America is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of science that translates to meaningful diagnostic and treatment advances for people living with CFS. It is disappointing that XMRV did not illuminate that path, but we will translate the heightened awareness and scientific engagement to hope for better care and ultimately a cure for CFS.