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CDC extends search for CFS chief

Monday 20 September 2010

Dr William C Reeves
Dr William C Reeves

From Atlanta Unfiltered:

CDC extends search for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome chief

September 15, 2010

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — under a spotlight again for conflicting research on chronic fatigue syndrome — have extended the search for a scientist to lead research into the disorder.

Applicants to run the CDC’s Chronic Viral Diseases Branch now have until Friday, Sept. 17, to submit their resumes — a two-week extension. The Atlanta-based agency is looking for someone to take over a wing that, critics say, has resisted and ridiculed outside research suggesting a correlation between chronic fatigue syndrome and the XMRV retrovirus.

Dr. William C. Reeves, who ran that branch since the early 1990s, was reassigned in February as both researchers and patient groups pressed for new, dynamic leadership. However, Reeves remained controversial as he continued to publish psychosocial studies regarding CFS and chose the samples to be used in the CDC’s latest study of the disorder. That study, which found no link with XMRV, was pulled and then published in July.

FDA and NIH researchers found a prevalence of XMRV in CFS patients in a study that was also pulled and then published in August.

Former CDC virologist Suzanne Vernon, now scientific director for the CFIDS Association, has said the CDC study was designed not to detect XMRV and charged that such studies continue to absorb time, waste precious resources and fuel controversy.

A change in leadership at CDC might change that. Psychologist Dr. Fred Friedberg, president of a 500-member professional association of CFS experts, believes a new chief will need long experience in virology, immunology, and/or molecular medicine as well as strong managerial skills.

But Friedberg, in an e-mail, stressed that the CDC program is most lacking in its ability to deal effectively with the scientific community, national and international medical and health-related organizations, community and non-governmental groups and the public at large.

“To date, the leadership of the Viral Diseases Branch has conveyed an attitude of rebuff and dismissal toward the scientific and professional communities. This attitude has generated ongoing mistrust and skepticism of their plans for CFS research. …

“The IACFS/ME would like to see the position of Chief filled by someone who constructively engages with the scientific community with a shared vision of substantive biomedical research — particularly in the challenging new domains of retrovirology and molecular medicine — with the potential of developing new models of intervention in this poorly understood illness.”

A leader with open communication and fresh perspectives could restore the respect and credibility for the CDC, Friedberg said.

Virologist Dr. Elizabeth Unger is the CDC’s current acting branch chief.

The article originally appeared here.

Atlanta Unfiltered also has an earlier article:

CDC reassigns controversial head of chronic fatigue research

February 5, 2010

The Atlanta-based CDC has reassigned its chief researcher into chronic fatigue syndrome, a longtime target of scientific organizations and patient advocacy groups around the country.

Researchers in Nevada last fall reported a strong correlation between chronic fatigue syndrome and XMRV, a retrovirus related to the one that causes AIDS. The potential breakthrough has excited the 1 million or so Americans with CFS who are looking for treatment.

The CDC’s research program, led by Dr. William C. Reeves, had no role in that study, and Reeves was dismissive of its findings. Critics said that was because the agency had wasted $100 million on looking for a possible psychological explanation for CFS and dismissing outside research that looked for a viral cause.

Finally, last fall, a CFS Advisory Committee called on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to install “progressive leadership” to direct CDC’s efforts to find a cause and cure for the disease. The panel did not identify Reeves as the obstacle, but minutes show the committee had discussed whether to name him.

The International Association for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a 500-member group of medical professionals, has repeatedly challenged CDC’s focus and its new five-year plan for CFS research. Its president, psychologist Fred Friedberg, testified in October:

“After 25 years (and over $100 million) of CDC research, chronic fatigue syndrome remains a stigmatized illness without substantive progress on public health policy or objective diagnosis and treatment. And their new five-year, $25 million plan fails to inspire any confidence that change will occur.”

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said today he had “no direct knowledge” of the reasons behind Reeves’ reassignment, other than the agency’s belief that his expertise was “a good fit” for his new role.

“As far as his salary goes, it’s a lateral move for him,” Skinner said.

Starting Feb. 14, Reeves will be senior advisor for a new mental health surveillance program that will explore how various diseases and conditions affect mental health. Virologist and cancer researcher Dr. Elizabeth R. Unger becomes director of the Chronic Viral Diseases Branch (CVDB), which includes the CFS program, on an interim basis.

“Looking for a permanent director will commence as soon as possible,” Skinner said.

The transfer comes on the heels of the CDC’s reassignment last month of Dr. Howard Frumkin, who had run the CDC division that deal with public health problems associated with formaldehyde contamination in trailers provided to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Frumkin became a special assistant to the CDC’s director of Climate Change and Public Health.

CFIDS Association applauded the leadership change in the CDC’s research into the disease:

“The CFIDS Association of America, other organizations and advocates have vocally supported new program leadership to effect a more robust research effort at CDC. This staffing change has the potential to significantly advance CFS research beyond the agency’s intramural program and to seize scientific momentum generated by recent discoveries.”

The article originally appeared here.



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