Bloomberg News

Science Journal Retracts Paper Linking Fatigue and Virus

January 04, 2012

(Updates with dissenting author in the sixth paragraph.)

Dec. 22 (Bloomberg) -- A 2009 study that linked chronic fatigue syndrome to a mouse virus and led to a blood-donation ban has been retracted by the journal Science because it hasn’t been replicated and had poor quality control.

The journal has “lost confidence in the report and the validity” of a potential link between the mouse virus XMRV and chronic fatigue, said Bruce Alberts, Science’s editor-in-chief, in a statement. The statement will appear in the Dec. 23 issue.

In December 2010, the American Red Cross stopped accepting blood from people diagnosed with chronic fatigue because of the risk it carried XMRV. The syndrome is characterized by severe, sustained tiredness not relieved by rest. In October, reports from the American Association of Blood Banks in San Diego indicated that XMRV isn’t transmitted through blood.

At least 10 trials have failed to replicate the study results, and subsequent research has indicated the blood samples used in 2009 were likely contaminated by the virus in the laboratory. While most of the study authors agreed to a retraction, they have been unable to word a statement on their own and such a declaration “is unlikely to be forthcoming,” the journal said in explaining its decision.

“We regret the time and resources that the scientific community has devoted to the unsuccessful attempts to replicate these results,” Alberts wrote.

Former Researcher Jailed

Judy Mikovits, formerly with the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Diseases in Reno, Nevada, was among the study authors who didn’t sign a retraction, according to Science spokeswoman Kathy Wren.

Mikovits was arrested and jailed in Santa Paula, California, according to a November report from Science News. She was being held for extradition to Reno, Nevada, in relation to a November lawsuit by the institute alleging she had wrongfully kept data from her employer.

A study of 150 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and 150 healthy volunteers is being led by Ian Lipkin, a professor at epidemiology at Columbia University in New York. It should be complete by early 2012.

More than 1 million people in the U.S. have chronic fatigue syndrome, more than those with multiple sclerosis, lupus, or lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The condition, which saps people of energy for months or years, has no proven cause and mostly affects women ages 30 to 50, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Women are four times more likely than men to develop the disease.

Stephanie Millian, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based American Red Cross, wasn’t immediately available to comment. Audrey Young, a spokeswoman for the Whittemore Peterson Institute, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The retracted study, published in October 2009, found XMRV in the blood of two-thirds of tissue samples taken from people with the condition and 3.7 percent of a group of healthy individuals.

--With assistance from Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis. Editors: Adriel Bettelheim, Bruce Rule

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at elopatto@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.


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