XMRV Researcher Jailed

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As many readers and people with an interest in Chronic Fatigue will have read over the last few months, the researcher Judy Mikovits has been having a hard time finding labs to replicate her controversial findings regarding the XMRV virus.

Attractive though this theory was to many in the CFIDS community – despite the fact that no treatment was ever confirmed relevant, other lab experiments, including one run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, in which Mikovits participated were unable to replicate her results.[1],[2]

In a somewhat bizarre twist to this evolving drama Judy Mikovits, was arrested and jailed on 18 November in Ventura, California, on a felony charge of possessing stolen property from a research institute that fired her in September. The property at issue consisted of her laboratory notebooks and related data.

Mikovits’s legal troubles began on 4 November when Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro- Immune Disease (WPI) filed a civil suit against her alleging breach of contract, misappropriating trade secrets, and related claims. WPI asserted that after it fired Mikovits, she took her notebooks, a laptop, and flash drives with data that did not belong to her. Mikovits, WPI stressed, had signed a “proprietary information and invention agreement” when her employment began in 2007 that stipulated she would return all work materials upon termination. WPI sought a preliminary injunction that would force her to return, undamaged, the “misappropriated property.”

Mikovits posted bail soon after her extradition hearing and was released that evening. That same day, the civil court in Reno granted WPI the preliminary injunction it sought, which orders her to return the “mis-appropriated property” or be held in contempt of court. On 23 November, the day before Thanksgiving, WPI posted a cryptic note on its Facebook page suggesting that the case against Mikovits may soon have closure. “We are thankful that most of our property has been returned,” the note states. WPI’s spokesperson told Science that Mikovits’s husband “returned some material to police in Ventura” but that it had not all been accounted for as of 28 November.

Comment

I do not expect we have heard the last of this, conspiracy theorists and anxious, desperate sufferers may still see that Dr Mikovits is the innocent and penetrative scientist that gave them all hope, and may yet still be able to find additional substantiation. But, in the more sedate world of research this story has been one of the most compelling over the last 12 months and not simply for the scientific uproar.

References


[1] Cohen J, Enserink M. Virology. False positive. Science. 2011 Sep 23;333(6050):1694-701. No abstract available. Erratum in: Science. 2011 Nov 4;334(6056):594.

[2] Simmons G, Glynn SA, Komaroff AL, Mikovits JA, Tobler LH, Hackett J Jr, Tang N, Switzer WM, Heneine W, Hewlett IK, Zhao J, Lo SC, Alter HJ, Linnen JM, Gao K, Coffin JM, Kearney MF, Ruscetti FW, Pfost MA, Bethel J, Kleinman S, Holmberg JA, Busch MP; Blood XMRV Scientific Research Working Group (SRWG).Failure to confirm XMRV/MLVs in the blood of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: a multi-laboratory study. Science. 2011 Nov 11;334(6057):814-7. Epub 2011 Sep 22. View Abstract

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Do you realise that there is no evidence that Mikovits has her notebooks and that people hostile to the research and her have managed to get a hold of the original data at a time when it was said material was stolen and post that on the web?

    The viruses found in ME are also not XMRV. The Lombardi paper now only shows the viruses to be polytropic and the sequencing for the right half is not yet done. However before Mikovits left the WPI sequences on the missing half were added to the genbank, they were also polytropic.

    Lo/Alter found the same viruses and others have failed to look for the right viruses. If only they had applied the scientific method and clinically validated their assays, now they have to go back to their labs and looks for those viruses. They don’t get to look for synthetic VP62/XMRV anymore.

    Reply
    • Dear DI
      This is a very complicated challenge to Dr Mikovits, and the personalities and people involved, I have simply commentated on the discussions and reports based on affidavits described in the Journal ‘Science’. Over time, as is the case with all information, this may change, but there can be no doubt that this case is another part of Dr Mikovits career path that has attracted a great deal of interest from scientists and patients.

      Reply
  • “WPI’s spokesperson told Science that Mikovits’s husband “returned some material to police in Ventura” but that it had not all been accounted for as of 28 November.”

    When did Science say that? I think you are mistaken?

    Reply
    • Hello Di

      As I hope I explained in my commentary, the case involving Dr Mikovits is something of a complex one, not simply because of the virology discussions but also because of the recent legal challenges. The quotation you refer to was lifted from the commentary in ‘Science’ 2 December 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6060 pp. 1189-1190 DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6060.1189 News; Analysis: Intellectual Property, Dispute Over Lab Notebooks Lands Researcher in Jail. This is reported in the journal, and whilst the comments may prove over time to be incorrect, have been published.

      Reply
  • The few affidavits that have been strangely made public are not those taken by the police. These still remain undisclosed.

    Thank you for providing the source of the comment.

    I agree Cohen’s comments could well be incorrect. Here is a brief summary of events, the dates where added I think are accurate. You may find this intriguing.

    Mikovits is fired, soon after Max claims he picked up Judy’s materials. On the 4 October people hostile to Mikovits and her science start posting raw data from the Lombardi paper on the web. On the 7th Oct Annette Whittemore in a Q&A with patients states that they do not have Judy’s notebooks and that she took them from her office. On the 14 Oct Max claims he left Mikovits alone with those materials and when he return she and the materials were gone. Then I think on the 14 again he makes the affidavit to the notary at the WPI, not the police.

    Reply
  • I have now read the Cohen comment. It does not say whether those materials were claimed to have gone missing. They could well be different materials.

    Reply

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