Has Science found the cause of ME?

NB: The research experiments for this article have been found to be contaminated, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16306646, but the researchers are still convinced of a viral link in this complex syndrome.
NZ Herald Newspaper article 10/10/09
Lead story in The Independent, 9 October 2009, by science editor Steve Connor

Scientists say they have made a dramatic breakthrough in understanding the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome - a debilitating condition affecting 250,000 people in Britain which for decades has defied a rational medical explanation. The researchers have discovered a strong link between chronic fatigue syndrome, which is sometimes known as ME or myalgic encephalomyelitis, and an obscure retrovirus related to a group of viruses found to infect mice. Although the published data falls short of proving a definitive cause-and-effect, one of the scientists behind the study said last night that she was confident that further unpublished data she had gathered over the past few weeks implicated the retrovirus as an important and perhaps sole cause of the condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome has blighted the lives of an estimated 17 million people worldwide because its symptoms, long-term tiredness and aching limbs, do not go away with sleep or rest. Famous sufferers have included the author and yachtswoman Clare Francis, the film director Lord Puttnam, the pop singer Suzanne Shaw and the Labour politician Yvette Cooper, who has made a full recovery. The condition initially generated much controversy in the 1980s, when it was known as "yuppie flu", because some medical authorities even doubted whether it was a genuine physical illness. In the absence of a proven cause, many scientists have questioned whether there could ever be one reason behind so many different symptoms, so the latest research showing a strong link to a single virus has generated intense excitement among experts. The study, published in the journal Science, shows that the virus, called murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV), was found in 68 of 101 patients from around the US with chronic fatigue syndrome. This compared with just eight of 218 healthy "controls" drawn at random from the same parts of the US, the scientists said. But the senior author of the study, Judy Mikovits, director of research at the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, said further blood tests have revealed that more than 95 per cent of patients with the syndrome have antibodies to the virus - indicating they have been infected with XMRV, which can lie dormant within a patient's DNA. "With those numbers, I would say, yes we've found the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. We also have data showing that the virus attacks the human immune system," said Dr Mikovits. She is testing a further 500 blood samples gathered from chronic fatigue patients diagnosed in London. "The same percentages are holding up," she said. If the findings are replicated by other groups and the XMRV virus is accepted as a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome then it could be possible to treat patients with antivirals, just like treating HIV, or to develop a vaccine against the virus to protect people from developing the condition, said Dr Mikovits. "We now have compelling proof that a retrovirus named XMRV is present in more than two-thirds of patient samples with chronic fatigue syndrome. This finding could be a major step in the discovery of vital treatment options for millions of patients," she said. The genetic structure of the XMRV virus indicates that it has evolved from a similar virus found in wild field mice. Dr Mikovits suggested it could have jumped the "species barrier" from mouse to man like many other human viruses, such as HIV, another retrovirus, which is thought to have infected humans from monkeys or apes.

Jan's Poems about ME

Old Before My Time (1999)

I've got a clever virus
and everywhere I go,
people say 'How are you?'
but really don't want to know.
They seek a cheerful answer,
they say I'm looking good.
And so I smile and say 'I'm fine.'
Just old before my time.

Tuesday Meeting 7-9pm (2000)

'Sorry I'm yawning,
I had a heavy day on Saturday.'
'You had a heavy day on Saturday?
But this is Tuesday.'' He sounds amazed.
Then he laughs, and others join him.
They all laugh.
My turn to be amazed.
Is it really so abnormal
not to recover one's energy?
It's my life 15 years into Tapanui flu.
I am perplexed. I have no idea
what it is like to be normal.
Yet one voice in the crowd
directs itself at me and says:
'I know just what she means.'

God I'm miserable (2003)

God I'm miserable
I want to serve you
to be up front
but here I am sidelined
losing confidence
'Yes, but what do you do?'
I just lie around a lot
I don't do anything
even Maungati Mouse
has come back from the publishers
with his tail between his legs
it's a good day
when I can walk the dog
to the end of the road
and back
Rob says he wasn't going very well
two hours trek up Mount Somers
to the snow line
two hours skinning to the top
and a long ski down
blue sky virgin snow
lucky thing
maybe I can do a bit of gardening
or wash the floor
what does a normal body feel like

M E (2004)

I'm tired
very very

M E (2005)

I'm squirming like a lizard
wriggling like a tadpole
headless as a chook

my brain won't work

I'm a car freewheeling down a slope
can't get into gear

I'm a mountaineer at high altitude
confused, can't make decisions

sometimes I just don't connect

nine tenths of the time
no one notices



but today
pushed beyond my boundaries
I'm a mess

and it shows