Who’s In and Who’s Out at the International XMRV Workshop?

July 23, 2010

Posted by Cort Johnson

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3275-XMRVWorkshop..jpgInternational XMRV Workshop Lineup – Conference and Workshop lineups can tell you alot about who’s in and who’s out. I remember a CDC lecture at the Reno CFS conference; it was a nothing lecture but there it was in prime time. Why? Probably because the CDC had to be given some space.

Why is Dr. Komarof always given the end address at the IACFS/ME International ME/CFS Conferences? Is it because he’s so brilliant or because he gives such a great presentation? He does give a great presentation but I suspect that one reason he’s always given such a prominent position is that he is a middle of the road, respectable researcher who just happens to hail from Harvard. He gives a good gloss to the proceedings.

Everybody wants in and not everybody gets it. That question for this workshop was apparently in the hands of the Organizing Committee for the workshop. The Committee consisted of Dr. Coffin, Dr. Silverman and Dr. Grice from the National Cancer Institute – all people who would be happy to have the Science papers findings validated, as well as Dr. Stowe from the United Kingdom and Dr. Boucher from the Netherlands.

Dr. Mikovits is not speaking – despite the fact that it was her and Dr. Lombardi’s paper that ultimately made this conference possible. Is this a snub to Dr. Mikovits? Certainly it could construed as such. She was reportedly not asked to speak at the conference because she is perceived as having crossed the line from being a researcher to being a ‘patient advocate’; a characterization that some researchers agree with and that infuriates others.

Here we enter the strange world where ‘politics’ and ‘etiquette’ counts more than science. By all rights Dr. Mikovits should be giving the keynote address. She was the driver behind the research that catapulted XMRV into the research spotlight. She did the research that got XMRV a place in the Science Journal. Dr. Mikovits, however, has transgressed a few boundaries and that counts more, in this proceeding, than her science does – and that’s unfortunate. Nor are other WPI researchers represented in the Workshop.

The most disturbing aspect of the Workshop, however, may not be that Dr. Mikovits is not speaking but that the CDC’s expert on XMRV assays, William Switzer, is and the WPI’s expert, Dr. Rachel Bagni, is not.

Other authors of the Science paper are well represented in the conference, however, and the lineup overall is quite strong.

  • Dr. Kate Bishop, NIMR, London, UK – Host Restriction Factors- Dr. Bishop was the co-author of what Dr. Mikovits believes is one of the most important papers in the field. Hers and another paper indicated that enzymes in T and B cells in the blood are able to alter XMRV’s amino acid makeup, thus rendering it unable to replicate in those cells. Dr. Mikovits believes the altered makeup of these cells is obscuring researchers ability to find XMRV.
  • Dr. Sam Chow, UCLA, Los Angeles, USA –Viral Integration -where XMRV integrates itself into the DNA of cells can have a huge effect on how pathogenic it is. XMRV’s murine leukemia retrovirus cousins integrate themselves next to and then turn on genes that can cause cancer – causing cancer in mice. He is studying to see if the same is true in XMRV.
  • Dr. John Coffin, Tufts University, Boston, USA –Basic Virology
  • (Keynote lecture) Dr. Eric Klein, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, USA –Prostate Cancer - having the ‘Keynote Lecture’ on XMRV be on an aspect of it that, for several years, generated little heat in the scientific community is disappointing. It was the Science paper on XMRV in CFS and healthy controls that got the research world humming not the prostate cancer research. By all rights, Dr. Mikovits should be giving this lecture.
  • Dr. Robert Silverman, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, USA –Animal Models - finding an animal model they can use to study this virus is, of course, a vital part of learning about it and Dr. Silverman was a co-author of the Science paper.
  • Dr. Ila Singh, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA –Pathogenesis - a hot topic for our Doctor from Utah. Dr. Singh has been studying XMRV in prostate for several years and is currently engaged with Dr. Bateman and Dr. Light on an XMRV/CFS study; its encouraging to see her on this platform.
  • William Switzer, CDC, Atlanta, USA –Assay Development - This is the ‘problem lecture’. William Switzer (who is apparently not a doctor, never having earned his Ph.D), was never able to find XMRV in the WPI’s samples for the CDC. Since finding XMRV is the KEY QUESTION at the moment this is easily the most important lecture for the CFS community. He will presumably be laying out the guidelines that have been able to find XMRV in spiked samples but not in patient samples. An alternative would have been to have Dr. Bagni from the WPI, who is actually able to find the virus. (yes, she is a real Dr.) Dd the conference organizers feel obligated to have someone from the CDC on board or do they believe he does, indeed, have the best assay techniques?
  • Dr. Frank Ruscetti, National Cancer Institute, Frederick, USA –Chronic Fatigue Syndrome* – No, Frank Ruscetti is certainly not an expert on CFS but with his 240 publications and renown in the field he does bring the kind of weight to the talk that no one else in the CFS field can bring; he is someone that Workshop participants will probably listen to. He may be the most distinguished researcher to ever speak for us.
  • Dr. Ellen Sparger, University of California, Davis, USA –Vaccine Development - are they already thinking about vaccines seriously or are they just covering all the bases?

Like many Workshops the International XMRV Workshop is a mixed bag. The WPI was locked out but several prominent researchers associated with the WPI were involved. The biggest question involves the choice of Dr. Switzer for the Assay presentation.

XMRV Global Action is organizing a drive to communicate the patients community’s displeasure at Dr. Mikovits not giving a lecture at the Workshop. Check out a discussion here.

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