November 17, 2010, 12:50 PM ET
By Amy Dockser Marcus
Since a group of researchers published a paper in Science last year
suggesting the retrovirus XMRV is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome,
scientists have been debating the accuracy of that finding. Now a
study designed to address that issue once and for all is moving
Clinicians who treat CFS patients, scientists and others convened
recently in New York, where virus hunter Ian Lipkin is based. Lipkin
was asked by NIH and NIAID to head up the study.
At least three labs have agreed to test fresh blood samples for XMRV.
Two labs, at FDA/NIH and the Whittemore-Peterson Institute, have
previously found XMRV or related viruses in patients. The third lab,
at the CDC, has not.
Clinicians who treat patients in different regions of the country,
including Miami, Boston, Palo Alto, and Salt Lake City, will be
collecting the blood from both healthy people and CFS patients.
Lipkin tells the Health Blog that the study focuses on whether XMRV or
other viruses in the same family are found in higher frequency in
patients with CFS.
As a starting point, everyone had to agree on how to define a CFS
patient for the purposes of the study. The issue has been highly
contentious and Lipkin says they tried to agree to criteria for
patient selection that "includes everyone's viewpoints."
The solution: the study will seek to enroll people who in addition to
meeting criteria for two widely used, symptom-based definitions of
CFS, showed signs of infection — such as a sore throat or tender lymph
nodes — around the time they developed CFS. The thought is that if
there is a viral link to CFS, it's most likely to show up in those
More work still needs to be done. The physicians participating in the
study will meet with Lipkin in coming weeks to develop a standard
checklist for evaluating patients. The scientists are still working
out a common protocol for how they handle and process the blood. But
Lipkin tells the Health Blog that everything they are doing is
designed to make it possible to finally end the debate over whether
XMRV is associated with CFS.