Scientists have discovered a potential retroviral link to ME/CFS (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome), a debilitating disease that affects more than a million people in the United States. This is big news for the ME/CFS community.
Researchers from the Whittemore Peterson Institute, located at the University of Nevada, Reno, the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Cleveland Clinic, reported their findings in the October 8, 2009 online issue of Science.
"We now have evidence that a retrovirus named XMRV is frequently present in the blood of patients with CFS. This discovery could be a major step in the discovery of vital treatment options for millions of patients," said Judy Mikovits, Ph.D., director of research for the WPI and leader of the team that discovered this association. In this study, scientists identified XMRV in the blood of 67 percent of the ME/CFS patients tested, while it was only present in 3.7 percent of the healthy controls.
This study is being hailed as a breakthrough. "These compelling data allow the development of a hypothesis concerning a cause of this complex and misunderstood disease, since retroviruses are a known cause of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer in man," said Francis Ruscetti, Ph.D., Laboratory of Experimental Immunology, National Cancer Institute. The XMRV virus was previously identified in men with prostate cancer.
Retroviruses like XMRV have been also shown to activate a number of other latent viruses. This could explain why so many different viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus, have been associated with ME/CFS. (It is important to note that retroviruses, like XMRV, are not airborne.)
"The scientific evidence that a retrovirus is implicated in CFS opens a new world of possibilities for so many people," said Annette Whittemore, founder and president of WPI and mother of a CFS patient. "Scientists can now begin the important work of translating this discovery into medical care for individuals with XMRV related diseases."
Dan Peterson, M.D., medical director of WPI added, "Patients with CFS deal with a myriad of health issues as their quality of life declines. I'm excited about the possibility of providing patients, who are positive for XMRV, a definitive diagnosis, and hopefully very soon, a range of effective treatments options."
For an excellent, in-depth discussion of this new discovery, read Cort Johnson's blog entry Game Changer.
Source: National Institutes of Health news release. 10/8/09.