Science retracts paper on detection of XMRV in CFS patients

22 December 2011

Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine, writes that the journal is retracting the 2009 paper describing the detection of the retrovirus XMRV in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome:

Science is fully retracting the Report “Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV, in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome”.

He writes that the decision was reached because multiple laboratories have failed to reliably detect XMRV or related viruses in CFS patients. He also cites evidence of ‘poor quality control in a number of specific experiments in the report’, and that Figure 1, table S1, and figure S2 have been retracted by the authors. Finally, he notes the omission of information from the legend of figure 2C, specifically that the authors failed to indicate that the peripheral blood mononuclear cells had been treated with azacytidine, phytohemagglutinin, and IL-2. He concludes:

Given all of these issues, Science has lost confidence in the Report and the validity of its conclusions. We note that the majority of the authors have agreed in principle to retract the Report but they have been unable to agree on the wording of their statement. It is Science’s opinion that a retraction signed by all the authors is unlikely to be forthcoming. We are therefore editorially retracting the Report. We regret the time and resources that the scientific community has devoted to unsuccessful attempts to replicate these results.

  • Anonymous

    What is happening? Is it common for journals to “erase” previous research? Or is this a fairly recent thing. Why don’t they just put a disclaimer section in the published paper describing the issues with the study, while keeping the original work intact? It’s odd.

  • Jack

    Looks like the delay was because of those authors (perhaps Mikovits and Ruscetti?) not being able to agree on a statement.

    Full retraction is the right decision given all the problems with replication of the results and the other issues that have plagued this paper.

  • Steve

    It’s odd because this this action is entirely political and has little to do with the actual science.

  • Eric S. Smith

    Why don’t they just put a disclaimer section in the published paper?

    That appears to be how they do it:
     http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5952/585

  • Stephen

    I don’t think that could be further from the truth. Science is pulling this because the results appear to be the product of contamination, as corroborated by numerous studies which failed to detect Murine leukemia sequences in patient’s samples, not because of Mikovits’ recent falling out and consequent legal issues with WPI.

  • Tessdeco

    Who’s politics, Steve? A lot of research time and money has been spent on XMRV. The results described in Lombardi’s et al could not be duplicated, even by Mikovits. Retracting the paper was absolutely the right thing to do!

  • Todd8765

    There was no replication.

  • Meek

    I assume that at least the principal authors of the paper – Judy Mikovits and Frank Ruscetti, who designed the study and did virtually all the work – along with Sandra Ruscetti, are not agreeing to retract the study. What does it mattter if other authors, like Silverman and DasGupta whose contributions have already been retracted, agreed to the full retraction?   Far worse is the general idea of retraction in such cases. YOU DO NOT THROW OUT POTENTIALLY VALID EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS. There is no proof that any element of the remaining parts of the study (after the partial retraction) were invalid.   No one has published a replication of any aspect of this study. The majority of confirmation studies that have been attempted looked directly for XMRV-specific sequences or antibodies. YET THE EVIDENCE THAT THIS STUDY SPECIFICALLY FOUND “XMRV” HAS ALREADY BEEN RETRACTED, so those studies cannot be said to challenge the findings of the remainder of Lombardi et al 2009. They were misled by Silverman’s data into looking for the wrong virus. However, it is extremely important that the serological and other evidence for the existence of a human gammatretroviral infection in a majority of tested CFS patients remains in publication, as it is unrefuted evidence. So why the retraction??   If journals can throw out any study whose results other researchers have not confirmed (and have not bothered to replicate) within the first two years of publication, then the scientific endeavor is in deep trouble.

  • cfsboston

    I have Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFS/CFIDS/ME) and HIV-NEGATIVE AIDS, idiopathic CD lymphocytopenia. With these two clinical diagnoses, I believe that makes me living proof that the AIDS-like CFS/ME is transmissible, something that the medical establishment seems unable to admit or to acknowledge. I also believe it makes me living proof that CFS and HIV-NEGATIVE AIDS are basically the same mysterious immune disorder….{more}  http://www.cfsstraighttalk.blogspot.com

  • Meek

    Dr Mikovits and Dr Ruscetti have not retracted.  There has been no reason given for the retraction.  This is politics not science.

    As Todd said, there has been no replication study.  There are no problems with the paper.

  • Meek

    The viruses in the paper are only polytropic.  XMRV is a hybrid and the half that was Silvermans work was the xenotropic part.  He messed up and said it was XMRV when in fact they are PMRVs.  

    Mikovits did not do the blood working group study.  The assays from the Lombardi paper were not used. 
    Mikvoits and other scientists in including Ruscetti have reproduced the same results again and again blinded.  Politics is preventing the publication of those papers and those from dozens of other labs.  

    It won’t be hidden for ever though.  Diseases will increases as will deaths.

  • Meek

    There is no evidence of contamination.  None of the data has been disproven.  Others looked for VP62, which Mikovits and Ruscetti never discovered by Lo et al. confirmed.  

  • Slerg

    That’s not true.  Their samples were contaminated with a murine virus.  This has been published already.

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  • Mary

    About bloody time!

  • Justin Reilly, esq.

    That part- Silverman’s contamination- has already been retracted.  

    There has been no replication attempt.  One study apparently was pretty rigorous- Ila Singh or Jay Levy’s, I forget which, but even that wasn’t a true replication.  I am not a scientist so I don’t know the significance of the failure to indicate treatment of the PBMCs in the legend of Figure 3C, I have heard arguments both ways.  But the sense I get is that such a thing is not normally sufficient for a study to be retracted.  I don’t see how including that new information makes the study now invalid.  What’s up with all the haters?  It seems clear to me that the general response to this paper has been biased against it.

  • Ronnie

    There is nu such thing as a perfect replication in science. For example the laboratory, the lab personal and the equipment are different from the original study. There’s always some degree of variation.

    If I remember right, one lab did the exact same experiment to detect antibodies against XMRV. They even got the anti-SFFV-Env needed to do the experiment from Ruscetti himself. And they couldn’t find anything. That part has been replicated in the best kind of way possible.

    There’s so many things (possibly) wrong with Lombardi et al., you shouldn’t even want to replicate that.

    Anyways.. the Blood Working Group study already tells us replicating Lombardi is no longer needed.

  • Anonymous

    What shocks me most is the fact that Dr. Mikovits was arrested due to claims that she had stolen laptops of her previous employer – Whittemore Peterson Institute. The claim was not about some data inside these laptops, but the laptops itself. Who would like to work to such stingy institute? Obviously, only persons without any self respect. However, this story tells more about the country than America has become than anything else. It is enough to remind that the Jewish scientist Paul Ehrlich was able to keep his work under the ascension of Nazism without being disturbed.

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  • Tony Mach

    “This is politics not science.”

    Sure, the entire retroviral scientific community rather plays politics than find a novel retrovirus. 

    Now please claim that all the negative studies were done with assays “calibrated to VP62″, without giving ANY evidence whatsoever how that is supposed to work.

    I know that ME/CFS is a devastating disease. And I am pretty sure that one (or more) pathogen(s) are the cause for at least a large majority of cases (assuming usage of a proper definition of the disease). But it isn’t XMRV and surely it isn’t “HGRV”.

    The truth is, you’ve been had. Yet you are so invested, that you can’t let go.

  • Tony Mach

    You demand a proper replication, yet have no problems that some steps were omitted in the 2009 Science paper? And then you ask why that should be a problem?

    “Please do a full replication on a paper that doesn’t describe all steps!”

    Yeah, right.

    (The truth is, all retrovirologists aren’t that bright. They couldn’t find a retrovirus if it bit them in the rse. The only exception is Dr. Mikovits. And quite frankly most retrovirologists are in it for the parties and are genuinely disinterested in finding out things. And this is a sarcastic end-note, just in case you hadn’t noticed.)

  • Tony Mach

    You demand a proper replication, yet have no problems that some steps were omitted in the 2009 Science paper? And then you ask why that should be a problem?

    “Please do a full replication on a paper that doesn’t describe all steps!”

    Yeah, right.

    (The truth is, all retrovirologists aren’t that bright. They couldn’t find a retrovirus if it bit them in the rse. The only exception is Dr. Mikovits. And quite frankly most retrovirologists are in it for the parties and are genuinely disinterested in finding out things. And this is a sarcastic end-note, just in case you hadn’t noticed.)

  • Lance

    Yes it is quite common – have a look at http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/ there are examples almost every day (and certainly every week).

  • Lance

    There is overwhelming evidence that the findings aren’t real, and pretty good evidence of contamination. The data have been conclusively disproven, to a higher degree than most disproven scientific findings! You really must be in denial to say something like that – you don’t hold a very credible position.

  • cfsboston

    The medical establishment will have you believe that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is some sort of ‘mysterious illness,’ but it’s no mystery to me; CFS/ME leads to HIV-Negative AIDS, idiopathic CD lympocytopena, a clinical diagnosis that I possess.

    How can the AIDS establishment continue on with a stale “it’s caused by HIV” mantra when there are HIV-Negative AIDS (ICL) cases cited in medical journals dating back to 1992?

    While millions of ailing immunodeficient CFS/ME patients get purposefully belittled and neglected, perfectly healthy HIV+ people are allocated billions of dollars in taxpayer money. How can that make any sense to anyone?

    It’s so easy to see that the medical establishment simply has these paradigms (CFS, HIV) inverted. AIDS patients are just the tip of the CFS iceberg, and it’s already well-documented that HIV is not the cause of CFS/ME.

    AIDS + CFS + ME = one catastrophic epidemic (not caused by HIV)

    See how easy?

    Now that the ‘mystery’ has been solved, could we please stop wasting time and re-allocate all the HIV funding into CFS research?  http://www.cfsstraighttalk.blogspot.com

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  • Lance

    I’m afraid n=1 is not proof of anything.

  • cfsboston

    acquired = transmissable

    I also happen to know the exact day I acquired said pathogen and the exact day I transferred it to yet another host.  My blood has been to the CDC twice now, not that its proven fruitful to my clinical care.  I have been offered ARV’s, but I am keeping my blood med naive so that I can continue to work directly with the scientific community.  None of it really matters to me anymore, I already have said pathogen;  I fight for you.  wwwcfsstraighttalk.blogspot.com