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A Concern

Science has asked the authors of the 2009 paper it published that associated chronic fatigue syndrome with the XMRV retrovirus to retract it, reports The Wall Street Journal. That article's findings prompted the American Red Cross to prohibit people with chronic fatigue syndrome from donating blood, Bloomberg adds.

In a letter to the study's authors, Bruce Alberts, editor in chief of Science, and Monica Bradford, the journal's executive editor, wrote that the paper should be retracted "in light of the growing number of research papers from independent investigators who have either failed to replicate your original finding that XMRV is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome and/or who have provided evidence that laboratory reagents are widely contaminated with the virus."

Furthermore, two papers published online this week at Science — one from the National Cancer Institute's Vinay Pathak and the other from the University of California, San Francisco's Jay Levy — cast more doubt on the chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV link. Pathak and his colleagues studied two human prostate cancer cell lines that produce XMRV as well as the lines' progenitor human prostate tumor xenograft that had been passaged in mice. They found XMRV infection in the two cell lines and in the later passage xenografts, though not in the earlier ones. They say the XMRV was not in the original tumor, but came from a recombination of two proviruses the host mice had. Meanwhile, Levy and his team looked at blood samples from 61 chronic fatigue syndrome patients, 43 of whom had been identified as XMRV-positive. Using PCR, RT-PCR, and other assays to search for viral nucleic acids as well as for virus-specific antibodies, the researchers found no evidence of XMRV.

The 2009 paper's authors have declined to retract it. "We feel this is an extremely premature action which is not in the best interest of the scientific community or human health," wrote co-author Judy Mikovits, from the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease, in response to Science.

Alberts, then, wrote an editorial expression of concern, published this week, in which he notes that at least 10 studies have failed to reproduce the chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV link. "Because the validity of the study by Lombardi et al. is now seriously in question, we are publishing this Expression of
Concern and attaching it to Science's 23 October 2009 publication by Lombardi et al.," Alberts writes.

Annette Whittemore, president of the Whittemore Institute, tells Bloomberg that she is disappointed. "We are extremely disappointed that the editor of Science has published an 'editorial expression of concern,'" she says. "The authors of the Lombardi study believe that it is premature to conclude that the negative studies are accurate or change the conclusions of the original studies and we fully agree."

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