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Looking forward

In addition to describing the 25-year study, Dr. Bell described early research into XMRV—a retrovirus recently linked to ME/CFS—and has already developed a new model of the illness, with XMRV as cause, to add to the existing library of "Bell disease models."

(Association members who attended earlier Bell lectures will find the new model similar to others describing the symptom cascade characteristic of the disease.) Dr. Bell actually studied the retrovirus family in the 1990s, thinking these were strong candidates for ME/CFS causation.

He described them this way: "Some viruses, like those in the herpes family, are relatively enormous. A retrovirus is a tiny, primitive thing, something more like our own normal 'junk' DNA. Retroviruses come from our distant past, and are inserted into our chromosomes."

Bell has contributed to early investigations of XMRV performed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but was cautious in his remarks. "I'm sorry that the subject is so far from resolution that I can't say much. There are all kinds of controversies about the work, like questions about whether the samples being studied have been contaminated in some way. The technical problems with XMRV are enormous, and I'd prefer not to go into detail about that here. These are issues that must be resolved by scientists; the good news is that smart people will figure it out."

XMRV research itself may be mired in controversy, but the basic concept of the virus as a ME/CFS trigger seems to be on firm footing. After Dr. Bell discussed the challenges ahead, MassCFIDS president Dr. Alan Gurwitt took the floor to say, "For too many years, the federal government failed us. The new people at the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seem sincere, and we're hoping to see some real science now."