Mikovits has her own theory about when Coffin changed his mind. She and Lombardi had found evidence, not included in the Science paper, that XMRV was linked to autism. On 11 November 2009, Lombardi presented those data at a meeting at the Cleveland Clinic. "You don't talk about autism in the U.S.-it's too politically charged," Mikovits claims Coffin told him. She believes Coffin turned against her that very day. Coffin confirms he was upset that Lombardi presented such preliminary data on such a fraught topic but says, "I did not 'turn against' Judy at that or any other point." (Author's note - Dr. John Coffin is an influential member of the National Academy of Sciences. He originally wrote an article in support of the October 2009 Science article by Dr. Judy Mikovits and others, showing an association between the XMRV retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome/ME, but has since turned against the theory. The reasons for this change of heart remain in dispute.)
Science, September 23, 2011, False Positive by Jon Cohen and Martin Enserlik
I'm glad this is out in the open. I've heard this privately for more than a year and now nobody can accuse me of making things up. It's in the public record. I know I wasn't at the meeting so I can't comment as to the accuracy of the claim, but the lawyer in me can't help making a couple of observations.
Both Dr. Mikovits and Dr. Coffin admit there was a meeting at the Cleveland Clinic on November 11, 2009 in which Dr. Vince Lombardi discussed information they had linking autism to infection by the XMRV retrovirus. For background on the XMRV/autism connection you can read my article HERE.
Coffin admits that "he was upset that Lombardi presented such preliminary data on such a fraught topic."
Which leads me to the inevitable question, why?
No members of the press were present. Nobody put out a press release. It was simply a private conversation between medical collaborators of the possibility that autism, the number one developmental disability among children, that disease which is twenty times more prevalent than polio ever was, could possibly be linked to a retrovirus, just as AIDS is linked to HIV. Isn't that the way responsible medical researchers are supposed to act?
But something about the possibility that autism could be linked to a retrovirus made John Coffin by his own admission "upset." Could it be that if autism was linked to a retrovirus, and it behaved like HIV, that any stimulation of the immune system, by say a vaccine, could cause the retrovirus to replicate out of control and cause problems? You can read my article on this subject where the UCSF Pediatric AIDS Department told me the same thing and you can also read it on their website. HERE
And while the attacks on Dr. Mikovits paint her as a zealot, here's what Dr. Coffin has to say about her in the same article. "I began comparing Judy Mikovits to Joan of Arc. The scientists will burn her at the stake, but her faithful following will have her canonized."
Is it just me or is there something a little unusual about a scientist who makes such comments about another scientist?
And the former English major in me can't help but be struck by how Coffin compares his fellow scientists to those who would burn a woman at the stake. Does anybody need to tell Coffin that burning dangerous women at the stake went out of vogue a few centuries ago? Could he have used a diferent analogy? Has anybody made a complaint to the National Organization of Women?
So, while Coffin is comparing Dr. Mikovits to Joan of Arc, here's how Dr. Mikovits responds to the criticism, "I don't care if nobody else in the world wants to work on it!" Mikovits exclaimed at one point, rolling her eyes. "Fine, leave us alone."
Who seems like the professional scientist to you?
The article also doesn't give full credit to Dr. Mikovits partner, Dr. Francis Ruscetti. About Ruscetti the article only notes, "She soon enlisted Ruscetti, who had worked in Gallo's lab when it discovered HTLV-1 . . ."
Dr. Francis Ruscetti is currently Head of the Leukocyte Biology Section, Laboratory of Experimental Biology at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. He had not simply "worked" in Gallo's lab when HTLV-1 was discovered, he was one of the two people who isolated HTLV-1, the first known human retrovirus, and is regarded as one of the fathers of retrovirology.
And what is all of the ruckus about? It's about a partial retraction of the original article linking XMRV to chronic fatigue syndrome.
Here is the text of that retraction, "In our 23 October 2009 report, "Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome" (1) two of the coauthors, Silverman and Das Gupta, analyzed DNA samples from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients and healthy controls. A reexamination by Silverman and Das Gupta of the samples they used shows that some of the CFS peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) DNA preparations are contaminated with XMRV plasmid DNA (2). The following figures and table were based on the contaminated data: Figure 1, single round PCR detection of XMRV sequences in CFS PBMC DNA samples; table S1, XMRV sequences previously attributed to CFS patients; and figure S2, the phylogenetic analysis of those sequences. Therefore, we are retracting those figures and table."
Translation - Silverman and Das Gupta of UCSF found their samples were contaminated. All of the other co-authors signed a paper agreeing that those samples were contaminated. And when those other researchers tested their samples they found no such contamination.
UCSF was also responsible for the VP-62 sequence, which was supposed to be the sequence for XMRV, but it appears not to be the case. This flawed sequence may be simply a lab creation, and although it is probably close to XMRV, it may not exist in nature, explaining why many teams have not been able to find it.
When the FDA's Shyh-Ching-Lo and Harvey Alter of the National Institute of Health looked for a broader range of XMRVs than just the VP-62 sequence they found an even higher level of infection by this family of retroviruses.
And for this scientist whom Coffin appears to feel is headed for a burning at the stake, Michael Busch of the Blood Working Group notes that Ruscetti, Mikovits, Lo, and Alter deserve praise for their dedication to finding the answer. Busch has been quoted as saying "I commend them for their scientific integrity and committment to the scientific process."
According to the Science article quoted at the beginning of this piece, Ruscetti notes, "It is quite legitimate for those people to say maybe these two papers were wrong," he said. But he emphasizes that many scientific unknowns remain about XMRV. He points to a study in the Journal of Virology in May that intentionally infected macaques with XMRV. It shows that XMRV moved out of the blood of the monkeys but stayed in tissue reservoirs and the antibodies disappeared. "We know nothing about the viral life cycle," he says. You can read my article on the macaque study HERE.
It would be good if the science could proceed without rancor. Statements such as those made by Dr. Coffin have no place in a respectful debate.
Kent Heceknlively is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism