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Retrovirus discovery in chronic fatigue syndrome seen as major breakthrough




ME/CFS RibbonThe results of a new study have found a retrovirus known as XMRV in significant numbers of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients sparking a worldwide media flurry that this may be the breakthrough patients have been waiting for.

The study, 'Detection of Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in the Blood Cells of CFS Patients', which is published in the prestigious journal Science, found XMRV in 68 of 101 ME/CFS patients but in only 8 of 218 healthy control participants.

The research was conducted by US scientists from the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), located at the University of Nevada, Reno, and their collaborators from the National Cancer Institute and the Cleveland Clinic.

WPI was established in 2005 by Annette and Harvey Whittemore (both University of Nevada alumni) along with Dr. Daniel Peterson, medical director of the institute, who is a pioneer in chronic fatigue syndrome research and a leading chronic fatigue syndrome physician. Dr, Peterson was one of the first doctors to recognise the illness in the United States, treating the famous Lake Tahoe cluster of ME/CFS cases in the early 1980s.

The Institute was founded after, in September 2004, a group of dedicated citizens and clinicians proposed the concept of an indedpendent medical institute for the millions of patients in the US suffering from chronic neuro immune diseases, such as ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, autism and other closely related illnesses. The Whittemore Peterson Institute is the first to provide fundamental biomedical research, evidence-based patient care and education for patients and physicians in a single facility. Many patient support and advocacy groups, as well as researchers and physicians see the Institute as a giant step forward for ME/CFS research and had expected it to produce valuable results quickly.

The study was led by Judy Mikovits, Ph.D., director of research for WPI, whose team used banked blood samples from across the United States to look for XMRV in ME/CFS patients. XMRV is an abbreviation of 'murine leukaemia virus-related virus'. It is a retrovirus similar to HIV and HTLV-1 which are known to cause AIDS, cancers and other immune deficiencies in humans. The virus was first detected in mice but researchers believe it has jumped the species gap to infect humans.

XMRV was originally discovered in prostate cancer tissue of men with a specific genetic immune system defect by Dr. Robert H. Silverman of the Cleveland Clinic. A similar immune system defect in patients with ME/CFS led Mikovits and her research team to look for the virus in this population. This study showed XMRV can be found in human blood cells and is infectious. It has been confirmed that this retrovirus, Like HIV and others, is transmitted through body fluids and is not airborne.

Science paper was submitted, we have continued to refine our test for XMRV and have surprisingly found that 95 percent of ME/CFS samples tested positive for XMRV antibodies in the plasma. This finding clearly points to the retrovirus as a significant contributing factor in this illness.”

WPI researchers continue to investigate XMRV to clarify its effects on the human immune system. Scientists at WPI are in the process of clinically validating a blood test for the detection of XMRV in ME/CFS and other human diseases which it is hoped may serve as a diagnostic test for the condition; this would be a first and something that is badly needed. In a press release announcing the study results WPI said that with anticipated additional funding they will begin the work of determining if any currently approved antiviral drugs can suppress XMRV, followed closely by human clinical trials to advance the most effective patient treatments.

“This is the breakthrough that we have been hoping for. Now we have scientific proof that this infectious agent is a significant factor in ME/CFS,” said Annette Whittemore, founder and president of WPI and mother of a ME/CFS patient. “Patients and their doctors will soon have a blood test to verify their diagnosis and provide the answers that they’ve been seeking.”

Daniel Peterson, M.D., medical director of WPI added, “Patients with ME/CFS (XAND) deal with a myriad of health issues as their quality of life declines. I’m excited about the possibility of providingpatients who are positive for XMRV a definitive diagnosis, and hopefully very soon, a range of effective treatments options.”

The hope of a lab test to confirm diagnosis of ME/CFS, or at the least a subset of the disease, and the promise of effective treatment will have the millions of people afflicted by the disabling and misunderstood condition rejoicing. It can only be hoped that this truly is the breakthrough that WPI and others believe it to be.

Source: Whittemore Peterson Institute news release, Oct 8, 2009

Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease


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