A Biochemist in Chains

Chronic fatigue is a frustrating disease, and the scientific community isn’t helping. How did the study of chronic fatigue syndrome come to this?

Julie Rehmeyer

Two years ago, Judy Mikovits and the Whittemore-Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease were triumphant. Mikovits had just published a report in Science pointing to a retrovirus called XMRV as the possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, a little-understood illness characterized by debilitating flu-like symptoms that worsen with exertion. A wealthy woman whose daughter has the disease had started the institute in 2007 to study CFS, fibromyalgia, and Gulf War illness—and it wasn’t long before its researchers appeared to have shown they could succeed where two decades of government-led research had produced little.

Best of all for many CFS patients, the work seemed to offer undeniable proof of what they had long hoped to establish: that their disease has a physiological cause, not a psychological one.

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