The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Controversy
Last week’s news about the harassment of FDA scientists and doctors who informed Congress that the FDA was approving risky medical devices showed the lengths to which pharmaceutical industries are willing to go to protect their interests. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – an organization tasked with the protection of American consumers – is not immune to the industry’s influence (unsurprising, with the ever-present revolving door between the FDA and the industry itself, which has in the past provided lucrative positions to government executives in exchange for beneficial policy decisions).
However, the harassment of whistleblowers is only the very tip of the iceberg. The pharmaceutical industry is willing to go much further to ensure that scientists and researchers who stumble too close to unpleasant truths never get a chance to continue their investigations. The recent case of Dr. Judy Mikovits, a researcher at the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease, is a case in point.
A former scientist at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Mikovits had the bad luck to discover that a mouse retrovirus seemed to be present in many people who suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. It was therefore possible that the retrovirus was in fact the cause of the condition, which until then had baffled the scientific community.
What followed was eerily similar to what happened to another researcher who made unpopular claims – Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who proposed a potential link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Further studies failed to confirm it – which, one would think, would end the story right there. The original paper and another study that appeared to support it were retracted – oddly, within days of each other. Dr. Mikovits left the Whittemore Peterson Institute, which proceeded to accuse her of theft and have her arrested and jailed for several days. Ironically, the Institute itself was later accused of embezzlement.
Either Dr. Mikovits is an immoral opportunist who jumped at the chance to make her name at the cost of innocent lives, or she is a victim of Pharma bullying. However, if she did indeed fabricate the results of the study, why did another study appear to confirm her results? Further, why would a respected scientist, who formerly worked at the prestigious National Cancer Institute, fabricate a study? And how would she manage to doctor the results without the knowledge of her collaborators, who belonged to equally well-known organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic?
Dr. Mikovits’ reaction to the whole controversy also does not fit the character of a person who fabricated evidence. Currently, she is supervising lab work in a government-sponsored study lead by leading Columbia University virologist, Dr. Ian Lipkin. The study examines the possible link between chronic fatigue syndrome and mouse retroviruses, and Dr. Mikovitz still hopes to replicate her original results.
Could the controversy, and the dramatic attempts to discredit Dr. Mikovits and her research, stem from the fact that her research could threaten industry profits? After all, Dr. Mikovits’ work centered on mouse retroviruses, and mice are the most common animals used in vaccine and drug development. We already know that foreign DNA fragments do end up in the vaccines themselves – and Dr. Hanan Polansky, from the Center for the Biology of Chronic Disease, has suggested that these DNA fragments “cause major diseases, such as, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and even obesity even when the DNA is broken and not functioning.” Dr. Mikovits may have been on the verge of uncovering something that would have demanded a sea change in the way vaccines – and other drugs – are created and tested, and this would have meant a major blow to pharmaceutical industry profits.
It is hard to tell what the truth is in this whole debate. However, I feel that if it is worth questioning Dr. Mikovits’ integrity, it is at least as worthwhile to place the microscope on the pharmaceutical industry.