It's been said that some of the greatest tragedies happen because those in charge fail to ask the most basic questions.
Consider the fire which swept the Apollo 1 capsule in 1967, killing all three astronauts. A spark ignited the pure oxygen atmosphere in the spacecraft. Every high school chemistry student learns pure oxygen is highly flammable. After an exhaustive investigation the conclusion was that no engineer had asked the simple question of whether it was safe to have a pure oxygen environment in the capsule.
I was reminded of the Apollo disaster when I read a recent post by Dr. Jamie Deckoff-Jones entitled Cover-up and Contamination Theories. HERE Dr. Deckoff-Jones is a former emergency room doctor, chronic fatigue syndrome/ME patient, and is currently the clinical director of the Whittemore-Peterson Institute of the University of Nevada/Reno. However, the blog explicitly states the opinions expressed are hers alone and do not necessarily represent those of the Whittemore-Peterson Institute.
The simple question Dr. Deckoff-Jones asks in her post is whether the culturing of viruses for vaccines in certain animal tissues, such as mice, has resulted in the combination of endogenous human and mouse retroviruses and caused both the chronic fatigue syndrome/ME and autism epidemics.
Dr. Deckoff-Jones begins by asking how those who claim XMRV (xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus) is a lab contaminant explain that the blood of chronic fatigue syndrome/ME patients contain antibodies to XMRV. Anti-bodies can only be produced in the body, thus any later contamination of the blood in a lab would not provoke an immune response. The Whittemore-Peterson Institute has also put out a statement on allegations of contamination. HERE
I've been interested in XMRV since my daughter and wife have both tested positive for the retrovirus and are part of an ongoing research program at the Whittemore-Peterson Institute. I have tested negative for the retrovirus. Children with autism share many common clinical symptoms with the chronic fatigue syndrome/ME population, including immune disregulation, increased oxidative stress, expression of proinflammatory cytokines, low natural killer cell functionality, and active microbial infections.
A poster presentation entitled "Detection of Infectious XMRV in Peripheral Blood of Children" was made at the 1st International Workshop on XMRV in September of 2010 at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In a small sample it was found that 14 of 17 children (82%) of the children were positive for XMRV infection.
The abstract which attracted the attention of Dr. Deckoff-Jones, XMRV Probably Originated through Recombination between 2 Endogenous Murine Retroviruses during in vivo Passage of a Human Prostate Cancer Xenograft, HERE was presented at the recent 18th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston, MA from February 27-March 2. While the abstract raised many questions, including that of contamination, to Dr. Deckoff-Jones it raised the strong likelihood that, "human and mouse endogenous retroviruses recombined through subsequent passages in vivo (in mouse) to produce a fully replicative xenotropic exogenous retrovirus, that in fact may prove to be the most infectious human retrovirus yet."
The CROI conference also had two other interesting abstracts on XMRV detection and evolution. The first was from Quest Diagnostics (which everybody in the autism community has probably used at one time or another) entitled A Sensitive Real-Time PCR Assay for the Detection and Quantification of XMRV. HERE The background section of the abstract stated, "Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) was first identified in prostate tissue from prostate cancer patients. One study reported detection of XMRV in 67% of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), as compared with 3.7% of healthy controls. Subsequently, several studies failed to detect XMRV in CFS patients, sparking controversy in the field. Therefore, a more sensitive and specific method is needed to resolve the issue. To this end, we have developed a sensitive real-time assay that reliably detects XMRV from CFS patients."
In short, Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest clinical labs around, thinks they have an accurate PCR test for XMRV. It doesn't sound like Quest believes XMRV to be a lab contaminant.
Probably most surprising for the CFS/ME community was the abstract from the Centers for Disease Control which has historically viewed the disease as a psychological disorder without a biological basis. HERE In the conclusion of their abstract entitled Extensive Genetic Recombination in the XMRV Genome they stated, "Our results suggest that XMRV is a complex mosaic resulting from multiple recombination events, possibly occuring over a significant period of time. More research will be necessary to further investigate the mosaic structure of XMRV and to determine if recombination occured before or after crossing into humans. In addition, caution should be taken when using small genomic regions for phylogenetic inference of MLV and XMRV tropism since this analysis may be influenced by viral recombination."
These abstracts and others may be part of the reason why Dr. Judy Mikovits, lead researcher on the study linking XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome/ME recently stated in a public forum that she expected "the politics surrounding XMRV" to soon go away.
Dr. Deckoff-Jones writes in her blog, "My guess is that passing lots of human tissue through mice and then culturing in the laboratory for now more than four decades has produced the conditions to enable a very unlikely event-by giving it many chances to occur. A probable place for this to have happened was in the creation of live attenuated virus vaccines where virus is made less virulent with multiple passes through animal cells in tissue culture." She also notes that scientists were "fiddling with mouse viruses in the lab in the 1930s."
The first documented autism patient, Donald T. in Leo Kanner's original monograph, was born in September of 1933. The first outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome/ME happened at the Los Angeles County Hospital in 1934.
Close to the end of her post she states, "Putting it all together, it seems quite plausible that batches of vaccines containing retroviruses that are infectious to humans have been going out for over half a century. Much of what I've written here has been known but ignored for a long time. The assumption was made that endogenous animal retroviruses couldn't harm people. It's becoming clear that this was a very incorrect assumption."
When Dr. Elaine DeFreitas found evidence of a retrovirus associated with chronic fatigue syndrome/ME back in 1991 the CDC failed to follow her testing procedure and as a result her funding was withdrawn. At the end of her article Dr. Deckoff-Jones asks if the CDC had acted responsibly at that time whether the autism epidemic could have been prevented?
It is a question both the chronic fatigue syndrome/ME and autism communities want to have answered.
(Author's note - Dr. Deckoff-Jones has written a second post on this topic which is well worth your time. HERE)
Kent Heckenlively is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism