Dear Colleagues and Friends in the CFS/ME Community:
This letter is written to clarify the status of the XMRV/MLV CFS/ME study I am coordinating at the request of the National Institutes of Health. Although frequently described as the “Lipkin Study,” it is in fact the Alter, Bateman, Klimas, Komaroff, Levine, Lo, Mikovits, Montoya, Peterson, Ruscetti, and Switzer study, designed by these 11 investigators to bring their best methods for case ascertainment and characterization and state-of-the-art molecular and serological diagnostic tools to address the question of whether a retrovirus is associated with disease. My role in conjunction with Mady Hornig and Bruce Levin at Columbia University is to ensure that the study represents an appropriately powered, definitive, representative sample of CFS/ME patients across the United States; to receive and distribute samples; and to assess results obtained in individual laboratories for consistency and evidence for or against an association between retroviral signal and disease. I use the term “signal” because any finding related to a retrovirus, whether infectious or noninfectious, genetic material, protein, or antibody, may provide insights into disease or allow development of diagnostic tests even if a causative relationship is not established. My condition on accepting this charge from the NIH and the clinical and laboratory investigators is that each participant agree to unconditionally accept group criteria for defining cases to be used in this study. Laboratory investigators were also required to unequivocally endorse their results at the conclusion of the study. Several months were required to develop clinical criteria for case and control definition and to complete approvals for human subject protection. We encountered additional delays when Dr. Mikovits could no longer pursue her work at the WPI. At that juncture, some parties suggested that the work proceed at WPI without her. However, in my judgment, the value of this study rests in its inclusion of the original investigators who reported the XMRV/MLV findings. Thus, I was grateful when we found a way to fully engage Dr. Mikovits. At the time of this writing we have collected and distributed for laboratory analysis samples from 123 CFS/ME patients and 88 matched control subjects. We intend to complete collection and analysis of samples from 150 patients and 150 controls in early 2012.
There is criticism in some quarters that this study is unnecessary given results obtained by other investigators with other samples. However, the participating clinical and laboratory investigators and our team at Columbia do not agree. We are fully committed to completing the work rapidly and rigorously. For those who continue to express concerns that this study is an inappropriate use of resources in a challenging fiscal environment, please be assured that more than 85% of the funding associated with this initiative is invested in patient recruitment and characterization and sample collection, archiving, and distribution. Thus, irrespective of study outcome there will be unprecedented opportunity to explore hypotheses other than that disease is due to XMRV or MLV infection.
W. Ian Lipkin, MD
Director, Center for Infection and Immunity