Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Blood Became Sick

A disease discovered about eight years ago is spreading in Asia and parts of the United States. Its victims, most of whom are Asian, are HIV-negative. Their immune systems are paralyzed due to the body churning out autoantibodies that inhibit gamma interferon, which fights infections. For more:  click here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Secret Files

Slogging through the sealed U.K. ME files that have finally been released isn't exactly like combing through Girl with the Dragon Tattoo material. But a few of the many entries--most of which concern disability eligibility--may prove illuminating, despite the fact that the patronizing author of what may be the most problematic entry is unknown: The beginning of the letter and signature are missing. The mystery writer intones, "It is important to avoid anything that suggests that disability is permanent, progressive or unchanging. Benefits can often make patients worse." 

Next, psychiatrist Simon Wessely penned an enlightening letter, writing to the Department of Social Security on June 10 of 1993 that ME is a psychiatric disease but that its "powerful lobby group" has earned ME a coveted slip in the neurological harbor.  Explains Wessely:

"I  regret to say that it seems to me that in order to be fair to the ME Association you have now gone to the other extreme. I am disturbed that this disorder should be listed as a neurological disease. I enclosed an editorial that I had written last year for a neurological journal reviewing the evidence on this subject, and concluding that there was little to point to a neurological origin of symptoms. Since then more research has been published in the leading neurological journals, and nothing has happened to alter those conclusion [sic].

"Instead I feel this decision represents the triumph of an effective lobby over scientific evidence. If CFS/ME is to be listed as a neurological disorder, I for one will begin to campaign via the mental health charities for schizophrenia and manic depression to be also listed under the same heading. Indeed, there is far more evidence suggesting that these disorders have a neurological origin than does CFS/ME.

"I also feel that this decision, if it has been made, reflects an undesirable stigmatisation of psychiatric disorders. The main difference between CFS and the major psychiatric disorders is neither aetiological, nor symptomatic, but the existence of a powerful lobby group that dislikes any association with psychiatry." 

Thursday, May 17, 2012


  A New ME Outbreak?

A group of mostly female students aged 12 to 19 in San Antonio, Texas, have come down with a constellation of symptoms physicians are terming unusual. Those symptoms include chronic fatigue, headaches, nausea, vertigo, stomach problems and seizure-like activity. In a recent news segment by San Antonio reporter Sarah Lucero, a mother of one of the girls said that one doctor accused her daughter of faking it—because the symptoms are so uncommon—and urged psychiatric care.

In the segment, other diseases that afflict teenagers are mentioned, including “chronic fatigue syndrome, postural tachycardia syndrome or POTS.”

When will doctors get it that POTS often goes hand-in-hand with chronic fatigue syndrome and that these Texas students probably have CFS?  Perhaps when the name CFS is changed to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or something else that explains how serious this disease really is.

One bright light: The San Antonio illness is being termed “neuroimmune syndrome.”

Has CDC gone to San Antonio to investigate?  My bet is no.

Sadly, the mother of the teenage girl in the piece is taking her daughter to the Mayo Clinic for help. Perhaps more than any other hospital in the United States, the Mayo Clinic is known for its dismissal and psychologizing of ME.  The most egregious example that I know of:  Back in the 1980s, Nancy Kaiser, who suffered from a severe case of ME—before she had a name for it—traveled to more than 200 physicians for help until she found ME-literate physician Daniel Peterson. One of her stops along the way was Mayo.

During the visit, Nancy had a seizure—she had multiple seizures every day before going on the experimental drug Ampligen—and fell off her chair. The Mayo physician kicked her and told her that she was faking it.  Nancy, of course, had no memory of the event, but her husband, Jim, who accompanied her, certainly did.  Nancy died of ME in 2008.

To view the San Antonio news segment, click here.
My thanks to Zac for emailing the clip about the San Antonio students.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Specificity of the Crazy and A Cattle Prod to the Genitals

Have You Been Served?

Two years ago, when Science published the first study linking the retrovirus XMRV to ME, how many of us yearned to fast forward a few years to see if Dr. Judy Mikovits’s findings would be validated and the cause of ME finally nailed, as we hankered to do 20 years earlier when Dr. Elaine DeFreitas published her landmark study linking ME to another retrovirus?

This heady time around no one could envision the spate of nightmarish events that have been plastered in the media since October 2009: shouting contests on both sides of the Atlantic about the rightness of this study or that study and intimidating researchers in Europe and the U.S. for daring to research the retrovirus XMRV, until they switched sides, washed their hands of ME or were booted out of research altogether.

Blood Working Group
More recently was the failure to distinguish patients from controls in the Blood Working Group's XMRV study, and the relabeling of slides, which caused an uproar. That was followed by a spate of jaw-dropping disclosures, for which I've coined the phrase "the specificity of the crazy"—though that phrase applies to much of ME research during the past 30 years. As many readers know, according to court affidavits by Mikovits's research assistant Max Pfost, Mikovits asked him to take documents from the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), which he stashed in a Happy Birthday bag.  His affidavits also state that Mikovits hid out on a boat to avoid being served with papers from WPI and that the duo created secret email accounts—an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Then, during Thanksgiving week, in a quintessential Upstairs, Downstairs moment, WPI gave public thanks for getting back most of its property.

British researchers Simon Wessely and Myra McClure, who published a negative XMRV study, and the CDC, which did the same, must be licking their lips as they watch the critical XMRV players implode in the media. Under extreme stress, many people become reptilian, but still…. To paraphrase singer Annie Lennox, how long can the ME community go on living in this same sick joke?

Pulling strings
Scientists are supposed to ask: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove?

I don’t know what to think about most of these events—let alone reflect on what we know and what we can prove. At this point, there are far more questions than answers. Here are some of mine: After working several years on XMRV, did anyone at the Whittemore Peterson Institute know that there were reliability issues with the XMRV assays before the Blood Working Group began its studies? After all, when you conduct scientific experiments, you check known positives at the same time to make sure everything is copasetic.

Another question: Who was pulling the strings? Did Mikovits see a problem early on—perhaps even before the Science study was published? If so, did she share her concerns with Harvey and Annette Whittemore or Daniel Peterson, or did she sweep her disquiet under the proverbial carpet? And if Mikovits voiced unease, what was the response? Did they insist she soldier on, and they’d all figure it out in the rinse cycle—or could that have been, perhaps, Mikovits’s expectation? At any time was there deception? Was there self-deception?

Do the right thing
Contending that the retrovirus is hard to culture from blood is reasonable, but how long can you then confidently rely on that assay? You have to develop an antibody test that works consistently or a better way to find the virus—or something. You have to take a step back and figure it out—because if you don’t, the problem will bite you in the ass—and not in a good way. And with this disease the bite always seems to be particularly vicious, the kind that leads to, say, a methicillin-resistant staph infection, several years in the wilderness, and slashing ME’s already dangerously low street cred.

What should the key players have done if they knew there was a problem? A psychiatrist friend of mine is fond of saying: “Unless someone is planting a cattle prod to your genitals, you walk away when someone is pushing you to do something you find objectionable.” You stand up, you refuse, you do the right thing.

Could that be why Dr. Daniel Peterson left the Whittemore Peterson Institute so abruptly—back when things were ostensibly going along swimmingly, only a few months after the Mikovits study was published? He wasn’t a bit player in this yarn: He’s the Peterson in the Whittemore Peterson Institute. None of the explanations for his abrupt departure have made a whole lot of sense, at least to me.

Intellectual property
Why did Mikovits want her notebooks and other data that research assistant Max Pfost allegedly took at her request? Did Mikovits believe the materials belonged to her? Indeed, Mikovits attorney Lois Hart told Science reporter Jon Cohen, “She [Mikovits] is entitled to a copy of the information she created.”

According to law, does that data legally belong to Mikovits or WPI or to both? In the U.S. and Europe, the institution usually owns the intellectual property, though every contract is different. (In Japan, it’s usually a 50/50 split between the institution and the inventor.) Is keeping a copy of the material different from owning the material?

Did Mikovits or WPI want the material to continue the current research, or to foster other important scientific discoveries and to help patients? Did Mikovits want the data to prevent WPI from continuing its research? Does the WPI want to prevent Mikovits from continuing her research? Where, exactly did the XMRV research go wrong—and is the key to it all in those notebooks? What role did money have in all of this? What role did fame play?

Who the hell knows.

Versions of the truth
In a November 11th post on the Wings of Hope blog, Annette Whittemore wrote: “WPI immediately asked to have the materials returned, but to no avail.” If the Whittemores made that request, how did Mikovits and her lawyers respond? What other options could the Whittemores and their lawyers have utilized short of humiliating Mikovits and leaving her to stew in jail for five days without the possibility of bail? Did the Whittemores need to resort to Draconian measures?

Or did the Whittemores have the fiduciary duty to report to the police that property was taken from its institution and once they did, was the chain of events that followed pretty much out of their hands? Did the Whittemores consider the negative repercussions of putting Mikovits in jail on scientists interested in studying this disease, in the press and on the patients?

I want to know the answers to these questions, instead of blindly pledging allegiance to anyone’s version of the truth. As I’ve commented on this blog in the past, and with apologies to Voltaire for messing with his quote, reason consists of seeing things as they are, not how we want things to be.

However you cut it, the last few months have been a terribly sad coda to such a promising start. I think of all the excitement, good will and hope that floated up the day the prestigious journal Science published Judy Mikovits’s study. Judy Mikovits, Daniel Peterson and the Whittemores seemed an invincible team. But most relationships end, and many end badly—though most not as badly as this. As Dr. Phil is fond of saying, “The person you marry isn’t the same person you divorce.”