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Retrovirology XMRV articles reported in media

Friday 24 December 2010

BBC News HealthThe articles published in Retrovirology (see yesterday's news item) have been reported in the general media.

Here are three reports:

From BBC News Health:

ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, 'not caused by the XMRV virus', say researchers

By Helen Briggs
Health reporter, BBC News

A new study has cast further doubt on the idea that a virus called XMRV causes chronic fatigue syndrome.

US scientists linked the condition, also known as ME, to a mouse-like virus in 2009 after finding it in blood samples.

Now, UK experts say the discovery was a "false positive", caused by cross contamination in the lab.

The illness may still be caused by a virus, they say, but not the one at the centre of recent controversy.

"Our conclusion is quite simple: XMRV is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome," said Professor Greg Towers, a Wellcome Trust senior research fellow at University College, London, who led the research.

"It is vital to understand that we are not saying chronic fatigue syndrome does not have a virus cause - we cannot answer that yet - but we know it is not this virus causing it."

Mouse DNA

XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus) is a virus found in mouse DNA.

It was discovered in 2006, and was later found in samples from some patients with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome.

This lead to suggestions that the virus might be the cause of these conditions.

A paper providing some evidence in support of a link between chronic fatigue syndrome and the virus was published in the leading journal Science last year.

In the latest work, the team, from London and the University of Oxford, used DNA sequencing methods to study XMRV.

They say their evidence, published in the journal Retrovirology, shows the virus found in patient samples arose from laboratory contamination.

What is more, they think it is unlikely that the virus could actually infect people.

Professor Tim Peto, consultant in infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, said the original paper in Science came as a great surprise to experts.

"There have now been a number of attempts which have failed to find the retrovirus in other samples, and this research suggests that in fact XMRV is probably a contamination from mouse DNA," he said.

"These latest findings add to the evidence and it now seems really very, very unlikely that XMRV is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome."

But the authors of the original research say they stand by their conclusions.

"Nothing that has been published to date refutes our data," Dr Judy Mikovits, of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease, said in a statement.

Dr Charles Shepherd, medical advisor for the ME Association, said patients should keep an open mind on the issue.

"The jury is still out," he said.


BBC News HealthFrom The Guardian:

Scientists conclude mouse virus does not cause ME

Hopes of breakthrough dashed as four papers conclude virus originating in mice is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome

Sarah Boseley, Monday 20 December 2010 17.50 GMT

A virus that originates in mice, which last year was hailed as a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME, is not the cause of the disease, say scientists.

Four papers published by the journal Retrovirology all come to the conclusion that the finding of the mouse virus XMRV in human cell samples was not the breakthrough that researchers and doctors had hoped for. Further research suggests that the samples were contaminated with mouse DNA.

"Our conclusion is quite simple: XMRV is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome," says Professor Greg Towers, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at University College London (UCL) and an author ofone of the papers.

"All our evidence shows that the sequences from the virus genome in cell culture have contaminated human chronic fatigue syndrome and prostate cancer samples.

"It is vital to understand that we are not saying chronic fatigue syndrome does not have a virus cause – we cannot answer that yet – but we know it is not this virus causing it."

The discovery of xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus (XMRV) in patients with CFS by the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada,published in the highly reputable journal Science, set the CFS/ME community alight. Many people who had been desperately ill for years without any idea of the cause, believed that this could be the answer. With a viral cause, CFS should be treatable and preventable.

But attempts to replicate the institute's findings have largely failed and the four papers published today leave little scope for further work on XMRV.

"Studies conducted by four completely independent research groups working around the globe have all reached the same conclusion: it is likely that the evidence for mouse virus found in human samples was due to contamination by mouse DNA," says Mark Wainberg, editor of the open-access journal Retrovirology.

The research includes evidence from a team led by Professor Myra McClure from Imperial College, London who looked at samples from prostate cancer patients, where XMRV had also been identified. They noted that XMRV was routinely found in around 5% of US citizens with prostate cancer, but was only very rarely found in European patients. Analysing British, Korean and Thai samples with a highly sensitive assay technique, however, revealed markers for mouse DNA other than XMRV. Professor Brigitte Huber and her team from Tufts University, near Boston, found similar results in samples from CFS patients.

In another paper, Dr Takayuki Miyazawa from Kyoto University offered evidence that the mouse DNA contamination may come from a particular manufacturer of testing kits commonly used to identify XMRV in tissue samples. When analysing the reagents in the kits without any human tissue present, the team found markers for mouse DNA.

The fourth paper came from Greg Towers and colleagues at UCL. They carried out retrospective analysis of previous research that seemed to support the claim and found that mouse DNA contamination was very likely in most of these studies. They concluded that researchers have been trying to identify XMRV using a DNA marker that may not be unique to XMRV after all. "Collectively, these results cast serious doubts on the PCR evidence used to support claims of MLV- related viruses in prostate cancer and CFS patients," writes Prof Robert Smith, Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Seattle in the USA in an editorial. "Future assessments of the prevalence of XMRV should include more rigorous PCR and phylogenetic tests to exclude the possibility of contamination."


BBC News HealthFrom The Independent:

ME 'virus' was actually a lab mistake, study says

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A virus that was believed to be the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as ME, has turned out to be a laboratory contamination that could not have caused an infection in humans, scientists said yesterday.

The discovery will embarrass the American scientists who said in 2009 that they had found convincing evidence to link the virus, called XMRV, with chronic fatigue syndrome, the debilitating condition that affects about three in every 1,000 people.

British researchers, led by Professor Greg Towers of University College London, believe that the DNA techniques used in the US research were so sensitive that they inadvertently picked up laboratory contaminants that had been in contact with XMRV, which normally infects mice.

"Our conclusion is quite simple: XMRV is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. Our evidence shows that the sequences from the virus genome in cell culture have contaminated human chronic fatigue syndrome samples," Professor Towers said.

"It is vital to understand that we are not saying chronic fatigue syndrome does not have a virus cause – we cannot answer that yet – but we know it is not this virus causing it."

The study, involving scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge and the University of Oxford and published in the journal Retrovirology, showed that the "virus" detected by the American researchers, led by Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, was actually a contamination probably arising from growing laboratory reagents in mouse cells infected with the XMRV virus.

The researchers also showed that as many as one in 50 "cell lines" used by scientists in laboratory experiments are infected with XMRV, which significantly increases the prospect of inadvertent contamination of samples taken from patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

In addition, the scientists found that the DNA sequence of XMRV found within the samples indicated that it was not an actively replicating virus, but one that was being passed on passively, further supporting the idea that it is a laboratory contamination rather than a genuine infection.



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