Dr Ian Lipkin and his colleagues should be congratulated on the way in which they have co-operated in carrying out a very thorough piece of medical detective work.
This has found that there is no link between XMRV (xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus) and pMLV (polytropic murine virus) and ME/CFS.
The results come as no surprise given what has happened since researchers at the Whittemore Peterson Institute first linked XMRV to ME/CFS in a paper that was published (but now retracted) in Science back in 2009.
All the initial hype that surrounded the publication in Science meant that people with ME/CFS were led to believe that a causative infection (ie XMRV) had been discovered, along with a diagnostic blood test, and that effective treatment with antiretroviral drugs would then follow.
Sadly, all three claims have turned out to be false hopes based on flawed science – with the scientific consensus now being that the original finding was due to laboratory contamination, probably from mouse DNA in the samples.
There should now be an apology – firstly from the laboratories who persuaded people to spend large sums of money on useless XMRV tests; secondly from those who influenced people with ME/CFS to put their health at risk by taking antiretroviral drugs.
ME/CFS is a serious neurological illness and there are many promising lines of biomedical research into the cause that need to be pursued, including the role of viral infections.
Contrary to the press headlines that are accompanying this story there is already a substantial amount of sound scientific evidence to show that a variety of viral infections (including enteroviruses, glandular fever, hepatitis and parvovirus) can trigger ME/CFS, that persisting viral infection may play a role in some people, and that reactivated viral infection (eg Epstein Barr virus and HHV-6/human herpes virus type 6) may also be playing a role.
Hopefully, we can return to more pressing research priorities now that the final chapter in the XMRV saga has been written.
Finally, it is encouraging to note that Dr Ian Lipkin is going to continue working in the area of ME/CFS research.
Dr Charles Shepherd
Hon Medical Adviser
The ME Association
September 18 2012