Observations Medicine and the Media

Science, chronic fatigue syndrome, and me

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c1260 (Published 03 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1260
  1. Cathie Sudlow, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant in neurology, Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences and Centre for Molecular Medicine, Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh
  1. cathie.sudlow{at}ed.ac.uk

    “Breakthrough” research in a major journal on a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome made a big splash in the media. But Cathie Sudlow regrets that sceptics such as herself were unable to get heard

    I don’t often read papers in the journal Science; I usually find the titles incomprehensible. But in October last year BBC Radio 4’s Today programme alerted me to a Science paper reporting a highly significant association between a recently discovered retrovirus, xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus (XMRV), and chronic fatigue syndrome.1 My initial response was one of scepticism: we have been here before with viral infections and the syndrome, and none has been proved, in the long run, to be causal. However, as a neurologist I see patients with this illness from time to time, so this was something I ought to find out more about. And since it was published in “the world’s leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary” (www.sciencemag.org/about/), with a high ranking 2009 impact factor of 28, surely there must be something in it?

    I found the paper online and skimmed through it, encountering results (XMRV detected in DNA samples from 67% of patients with …

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