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XMRV: the Urgency of Money

Posted by Cort Johnson

In a recent article on RJC.com Dr. Mikovits came out swinging.  Fights between researchers can get nasty but its probably rare that they veer into this kind of territory. After suggesting that the Imperial College group purposefully tried not to find the virus  (!) Dr. Mikovits referred to the fact that the paper was paid for, remarked on the quick submission  time and finally suggested that the insurance companies were behind all this.

Is she paranoid or are they really out to get her and the WPI and anyone else who purposes an organic cause to this illness?

One can only speculate but one thing is clear – money matters in Science – it matters a great deal.  Medical research only thrives when its hooked up to a money spigot and retroviral research needs one of the biggest spigots of all.  It may be that Dr. Mikovits looked at the string of circumstances – the very quick review process, a physician reportedly associated with insurance companies, a rather basic study – and possibly divined an effort to slow down the process down just as it got started.

Medical research is a very competitive  field and all it takes to kill a research arena is a lack of confidence. Time isn’t just money for a researcher, its also their career; pick the wrong project – spend a few years studying the wrong subject – and watch your peers fly by you. Given that virtually nobody thinks chronic fatigue syndrome is a good career bet anyway its probably not unrealistic to wonder if some labs wouldn’t quickly pull out  if things turned a little sour. Research projects don’t necessarily die because they’re wrong, they die because they run out of money.  Given that the short leash CFS always appears to be on one wonders if we just lost some partners? It doesn’t help that much of the XMRV research appears to be getting done using discretionary funds.

The presence of XMRV in the blood appears to make it impossible that XMRV will not get a full overview from the federal research community – but what about its connection to CFS? The DHHS studies – with both Dr. Vernon and Dr. Mikovits on board – appear to give us a good shot of really getting to the bottom of XMRV, and, of course, only time will tell.

What if the next study turns out negative as well? And the next one? My guess as a laymen is that the WPI did enough with the first Science study to keep the researchers digging away for awhile. But if there’s an unexpected twist to the XMRV situation – as there very well may be – will the research community will hang on long enough to figure it out.  The danger is that they won’t, leaving us similar to where we were 17 years ago when the resources ran out on Dr. DeFreitas hammered but not quite dead retroviral effort.

This is why we all need to be vigilant. This time we have representatives – Dr. Mikovits and Dr. Vernon – embedded in the process. If they sense the effort is not getting the governments full efforts we need to support them and push the feds hard for more research.  After all is said and done there should be no lingering basic questions about XMRV.  It’s not always easy to tie research efforts into a neat bow but we should at least be able to say what exactly the WPI found, what kinds of patients it is found in and what roles it might play in CFS.  We should be able to say, this time, that this pathogen got the study it needed.

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