(Bob Miller is a long time person with severe ME/CFS who has frequently testified at CFSAC Meetings. Congratulations to Bob for engineering such a startling meeting. )
By Rivka Solomon, with help from Robert Miller
Contact: Robert Miller < firstname.lastname@example.org>
On September 7, 2010, at 11 a.m., at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, a group of 9 CFS patients and their families met with Top level NIH officials. To my knowledge, this is the first meeting of its kind in the 27 years since I was first struck down with this illness in 1983.
The meeting was organized by long-time CFS patient Robert Miller. The meeting’s CFS participants (patients and family) included: Charlotte, Linda, Sherry, Scott, Marielle, Bobbi, Rivka, Robert and Megan. A wonderful surprise addition to the meeting was Dr. Daniel Peterson, of Incline Village, NV, champion doctor of CFS patients and co-founder of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, NV.
The meeting was held just prior to the start of the 1st International XMRV Conference sponsored by the NIH. The NIH officials present included:
- Michael Gottesman, M.D. Chief of NCI’s Laboratory of Cell Biology and Director of the NIH Office of Intramural Research https://www.nih.gov/about/almanac/historical/deputy_directors.htm#gottesman
- Paul H Plotz, M.D. Chief, Arthritis and Rheumatism Branch (NIH) https://www.niams.nih.gov/Research/Ongoing_Research/Branch_Lab/report_individual.asp?id=569&Branch_LabIDemail@example.com%20&includefile=RAG
- Roland Owens, Ph.D. Assistant Director of the NIH Office of Intramural Research and Chief of the Molecular Biology Section in the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at NIH. https://jgh.hunter.cuny.edu/index.php/component/content/article/6-biographies/95-owens-roland-a-phd.html?directory=18
These are my impressions of the meeting. Any and all mistakes, such as misrepresenting someone’s words or sentiments, are all mine. And I welcome any corrections from others.
The agenda that Robert Miller originally set for us went smoothly. It was for a half hour meeting, but in the end we were given a full hour. First, Robert had the patients go around the large table and introduce ourselves, stating how long we have been, or our family member has been, ill. Then he read a statement which included points and issues he felt needed stressing. They focused on, but were not limited to, these two key points:
- The need for trust building. In the past, our government offices (NIH, CDC) have acted in ways that has eroded our trust in them, from the (rather amorphous) decades of neglect to, most recently, the highly concrete fact that Judy Mikovits, the scientist who found the link between XMRV and CFS, was excluded from the XMRV Conference line up until patients loudly complained. Robert said that we now need our government to act in a way that engenders our trust in them.
- The need for funding. Funding is needed for ME/CFS research, clinical trials, and Centers of Excellence (including WPI).
(For the full text of Robert’s statement, see below.)
After Robert made his very salient, well-written points, Dr. Peterson made a statement, and then three additional patients made theirs, each lasting about 2 minutes. (My statement is included below.) Honestly, embarrassingly, I can’t recall any of them. Though I do recall feeling very proud to be on the same side with Dr. Peterson. And I do recall feeling very moved by the patients’ statements. One woman, the mother of a long-time patient, made a strong plea for attention to pediatric CFS issues.
After Dr. Peterson and the patients’ spoke, it was Dr. Michael Gottesman’s turn. He told us that he had talked to Dr. Francis Collins just that morning, and that the NIH Director wanted us to know that positive things were going to happen. “We are on track. Things will happen.” He did mention that NIAID is currently setting up multi-centered clinical trials.
After he talked, we patients started with questions. It was a 1 hr meeting, so there were many topics and I cannot recall all of them. They included (not necessarily in this order):
What power and purse strings Gottesman has as Deputy Director of Intramural Research. He was pointedly asked, Can you make a commitment to us right now for clinical trials? Answer: Gottesman explained that his department, Intramural Research, means research done within the NIH, not outside the NIH. Intramural Research is only 10% of the NIH budget. Intramural Research is where “higher risk” research can be done (I am not sure why he brought up that point, i.e. if it relates to us or not.) My impression was that he felt he did not have a lot of say in deciding on clinical trials. My impression was that he was at this meeting because Collins wanted someone high up to meet with us, but that Collins did not have the time (or inclination? Or knowledge of our needs?) to match the person we would meet with what our actual needs were. Others may have a different impression of the situation. Gottesman did say, in so many words, that the meeting was hastily arranged, and for the short time they had to arrange it, it was pretty good to get someone as high up as he. In terms of funding, he did say, “There will be more funding, and more publications.”
Patients pointedly asked why has this illness been ignored for 2+ decades. When Gottesman said it was due to a lack of concrete scientific, clinical and medical findings and published papers, patients countered that there are 5000 scientific and medical studies on CFS already published.
When Gottesman said that Alter’s paper was the first evidence of something concrete (i.e. a virus) for CFS, patients reminded him about Elaine DeFreitasand how her viral findings were ignored and even discredited by the CDC 19 yrs ago.
Strangely, at least to us patients, Gottesman praised the former CFS point person Dr. Strauss, saying that both the NIH and CFS patients lost a good fighter for our cause when we lost Strauss. No patients nodded their heads in agreement. Gottesman also seemed not to know about the disappointment patients feel towards NIAID Director Fauci. So we told him we did not feel warm and fuzzy towards him for having ghettoized us to the Office of research for women’s health (I don’t recall their official name), which has no money.
Gottesman noted how dangerous it is to take antiretrovirals when we have not done clinical trials. And before clinical trials they need to test the meds in vitro. We patients responded with the fact that there are already two published studies on antiretrovirals that work to hinder XMRV in vitro. (We sent these two studies to Gottesman via email after the meeting.) I think it was Dr. Peterson who talked about how patients are already doing antiretrovirals. That that is how desperate we are.
We talked about how if XMRV or related viruses are a dead-end (i.e. not a cause of CFS, and not a cause of anything hurtful to the body), we hope their interest in CFS does not reach a dead-end, too.
Patients discussed the pathetic name our illness was given, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and how that very name has contributed to families abandoning their sick family members because of disbelief that they are really sick.
Gottesman talked about how respected Dr. Alter is and how Alter’s interest in our illness and his published study will change everything for our illness. Alter, and his paper carry a lot of weight.
When the NIH team (Dr. Owens) said more people were needed to go into the field of CFS research, Dr. Peterson said there are many good doctors who are already working on this, but not getting funding. And patients stated that the lack of funding in general, for CFS, turns off potential researchers.
Patients talked very concretely about how funding for CFS projects and research are selected and allocated, and how the team who approves CFS research grants is flawed (noting the dentists and psychologists who are included in the team, as opposed to more immunologists and CFS experts).
– Gottesman said that for our specific concrete grievances, we need to write a letter stating those grievances and concerns and send that to the Director Collins’s office. He promised us that it will be addressed and forwarded to the right person within the Director’s office. (If patients are willing to send emails to Director Collins, we ask you to select something from the list of points Bob raised in his statement, found below. Pick the one or two points that you feel most effects or suits you.)
– Most importantly, Gottesman said he’d meet with us again. And I think 3 months time was suggested. We said we’d like others involved in that meeting, perhaps others from the NIH who we might suggest, due to our specific needs.
Any mistakes in this assessment of our meeting are all mine. There is a good chance there are many mistakes, as it was all taken in through exhaustion, brain-fog and a poor memory.
Thanks to Robert Miller for organizing this meeting, to Dan Peterson for adding the weight of his years of experience and expertise. Thanks also to the amazing patients and family members who shared difficult stories of years lost to CFS, and to the NIH officials who took the time to meet with us and will hopefully meet with us again in the near future.
— Summary by Rivka Solomon, with help from Robert Miller
Robert Miller’s testimony at the NIH meeting, September 7, 2010
My name is Robert Miller. I want to thank you for meeting with us today. We are particularly grateful for your work Dr. Lo and for Dr. Alters as well, and the PNAS publication.
I have had CFS for all of the 25 years that it took the NIH to get to this point. And still, we are only at the beginning of understanding a retroviral role in my illness.
I’d like each person with me to introduce themselves to you briefly and then I have 5 points that I want to make on behalf of patients here and the 1-4 million others suffering throughout the U.S.
- Trust Building: The PNAS paper was critical in confirming the Science study last fall which identified a retroviral association with CFS. But the fact that it almost wasn’t published, that it took an outcry from patients and scientists, and that the NIH almost let the CDC prevail after 25 years of failed CDC studies, is frightening to us patients.
- Even with the first XMRV conference sponsored by NIH, starting today, the researchers that found the XMRV association in CFS were not going to be invited to speak until patients protested.
- So, we present this petition, even though the study was published, because the 1016 patients who signed this petition and many more will be watching the NIH’s commitment to scientific progress in CFS very closely, and you have some trust to build as our federal health agency in this patient population.
- We are also delivering this second petition from P.A.N.D.O.R.A. (PATIENT ALLIANCE FOR NEUROENDOCRINEIMMUNE DISORDERS ORGANIZATION FOR RESEARCH AND ADVOCACY) with nearly 1600 signatures requesting a meeting with Secretary Sebelius to address the lack of funding for CFS/ME, and related illnesses.
- Funding. NIH’s record of funding CFS research is near zero. Less than $2 per CFS patient per year. So patients are demanding that the NIH allocate at least $100 million dollars over the next two years to researching CFS, especially the family of retroviruses that you have now identified.
- I’ve heard years of excuses at the CFSAC meetings from NIH representatives that not enough fundable proposals make it through your process. We know that right now you have a stimulus budget. We Say “Build it and They will come”. You have a huge opportunity right now to attract hundreds maybe thousands of proposals on this illness, and you need to be aggressive about it. That means changing the process, expediting the way proposals get reviewed and studies get funded, like you did with AIDS.
- There are many lessons from the AIDS epidemic that you published yourselves. [shown in the report]. One lesson is that funding early saves money in the future and certainly could prevent the spread of a debilitating virus. The book that gives an account of the politics behind HIV in America “And the Band Played On” describes Dr. Don Francis then at the CDC, was turned down for $30 million in funding when he was desperately trying to prevent the spread of AIDS in 1985. That lack of early funding for HIV prevention cost the U.S. government $$$ Billions of Dollars later while addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which we are still fighting.
- We would not be here if the privately funded Whittemore Peterson Institute had not identified the connection between XMRV in cancer and the immune problems (RNASE L defect) in CFS patients. They had to know CFS patient histories to figure that out. That is why it is Key to have doctors like Dr. Daniel Peterson, Dr. Nancy Klimas, Dr. Antony Komaroff and others working with NIH researchers. We need CFS Centers of Excellence funded by NIH – as recommended by the CFSAC advisory committee for years. The WPI should be funded as the first one, and you need to make others happen.
4. NIH and FDA need to drive a clinical trial process for treatments with the end goal of making safe and accessible treatments available as soon as possible. We are already experiencing the AIDS-effect of patients self-medicating with very serious medications, such as antivirals and antiretrovirals, because many of us are desperately sick and there are no alternatives for CFS patients – none.
a.I have participated in the only clinical trial approved by the FDA for CFS, the Ampligen (AMP-516 and AMP-511) study. I was on it 10 years ago, and I improved, the data showed efficacy, but still the FDA denied approval. After living in the DC area for 5 years, I had to up-root and move my 10-year old twin sons back to Reno, so that I could access Ampligen again, but yet To This day, I am still one of only a few patients with access to Ampligen. There is no excuse that there is only one trial in one city in the whole country to access the only treatment available. NIH needs to seed this process quickly, so patients have faith that FDA trials will bring them relief. The alternative is chaos like the early days of AIDS.
5. Lastly, children with CFS is a very troubling issue. Many recommendations have been made by CFSAC to address the obstacles to real pediatric care and coordination with educators and law enforcement. Children with CFS have to be part of the science. Your PNAS study also compels us to worry about passing this living torture to our children and spouses, and to worry whether every childhood cold will trigger what I have. What would you do if it were your child?
While I am angry that it has taken decades to get here, I Still have Hope, Because, We are sitting here today, just prior to the First XMRV Conference and because the NIH has confirmed a breakthrough. Your speed and commitment will give us our lives back.
Thank you for allowing me to speak here today.
— Robert Miller
Rivka Solomon’s testimony at the NIH meeting, September 7, 2010:
In 1983, I was 21 when I got mono and never fully recovered.
So one day I’m a straight A student leader, a mountain hiker, a global traveler, climbing the career ladder in int’l relations — the next day I didn’t have the strength to brush my teeth.
Two decades later, I’m still bedridden and homebound much of the time. Two decades — because my gov’t and the medical community refused to believe my illness was real. Instead of taking me seriously, my illness was labeled “fatigue.” The NIH ignored us, which was devastating. But the CDC did worse; they published studies saying CFS was an inability to handle stress, was due to childhood abuse or was an emotional imbalance. (Their most recent study saying this came out just last month.)
Last wk, 26 yrs after I got sick, my blood was tested and, yes, I have the human gamma retrovirus XMRV. My next step is to take dangerous anti-retroviral meds, even though, unfortunately, clinical trials have not been conducted.
I’m still bedridden much of the time; it will take me weeks to recover from the energy required for this meeting. But I am so glad to be here.
I am here to ask each of you, personally — you (point or look at each NIH rep) — to help me and the 1-4 million Americans with CFS that I represent today.
– We want you to fund fast-track clinical trials for treatments, medications.
– We want you to fund Centers of Excellence just for this illness, starting with the WPI in Reno, the folks who discovered this link between XMRV and CFS.
We have spent the last few decades abandoned by our gov’t. Abandoned. Please do what is right and help us. Now. Finally.
Lastly, I want to publicly thank Dr. Dan Peterson for believing us and for dedicating his life to us.
And I want to thank my mother, who has stood by through the last 2 decades. (She was present at the meeting.)
— Rivka Solomon
Closing Note: In a post-meeting email exchange between Deputy Director Gottesman and CFS participant Rivka Solomon, Dr. Gottesman said he would be forwarding Rivka’s “Dear Secretary Sebelius, Dear Director Collins” singing video to NIH Director Francis Collins. (Video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t1Xqp1LDxM )