There are lots of controversies in viral research.
Not just woo ones, like whether HIV-1 exists and causes AIDS, but real controversies that have been going on for some time, like whether HIV-1 infects dendritic cells or DCs just carry–>pass on virions.
The public hears about the stupid stuff, but dont know (dont care?) about the real controversies. This travesty has a third negative effect, in that sometimes the public never hears the resolution to the stupid stuff, thus it lives on in word-of-mouth whispers and the internets underbelly, long after science has soundly whooped the stupid claim.
I was reminded of an oldie but goodie– a perfect example of how completely normal and reasonable science can be twisted into woo by stupid or manipulative people from an article on XMRV. Apparently, XMRV is not just latching on to Chronic Lyme woo, but also SV40.
SV40! Talk about a blast from the past!
SV40 is old-school– Discovered in 1960. It, like many viruses, became a priceless laboratory tool for understanding biology– specifically cell biology/tumor biology. Bad-news-bears popped up when it was discovered that the cell line used to make the polio vaccine also produced SV40, and though SV40 is harmless in its natural hosts (monkeys), if you pumped it into hamsters, they got tumors.
There was no evidence at the time that any human was harmed from the vaccines, but its not exactly a bell-and-whistle that needs to be there. We screen human vaccines for wayward RNA/DNA/RT activity/etc today, but that was not possible back in the 1950s when this vaccine was produced. So, it was one of those ‘we lucked out, and we learned something’ mistakes.
… But then a lab found SV40 in particular kinds of human cancer.
Multiple lines of evidence, from antibodies to SV40 to PCR. And unlike a current controversy in virology, the SV40 researchers actually had a plausible biochemical mechanism for how/why SV40 was causing this disease. It was starting to look pretty bad. So the NCI set up a SV40 working group in 1997:
In order to resolve why some laboratories detect traces of SV40 in mesothelioma while others do not, an International SV40 Working Group, which included the majority of laboratories studying SV40 in human tissues, was formed in 1997. Nine laboratories from the working group agreed to participate in a study, funded and organized by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Each group was given 25 paired-duplicate samples of human mesotheliomas, a single set of 25 normal lung tissue samples, and positive and negative control samples. All the samples were blinded (labeled so that the human tumors and controls could not be distinguished) and each laboratory used its particular assay for detecting SV40, many of which had been used to detect SV40 previously. The results, published in the May 2001 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention (36), showed that none of the mesothelioma specimens was consistently positive for SV40.
Sounds familiar. Some labs can find SV40, some cant, and the ones that can find it, cant do it reproducibly.
Furthermore, the epidemiology of SV40–>cancer does not make sense. Cancer rates did not go up in populations exposed to the polio vaccine (in fact, sometimes they went down). Elderly, adults, children– no group shows an increase in cancer incidence based on putative exposure to SV40. Scientists even looked at populations in Northern India (where SV40 is out in the wild monkey population, thus humans might be exposed to it ‘naturally’ there), and there was no association between cancer and SV40.
Scientists have even looked for antibodies to SV40 in the general population (those things Judy Mikovits thinks ‘proves’ she is correct? “We identified a human antibody response… These scientific findings cannot be explained by contamination…”). The anti-SV40 antibodies scientists found… were not actually specific for SV40. They cross-reacted with BK virus (a totally normal virus that we have all been infected with at some point that you dont even notice). When they used a super-specific test, there was no difference between cancer/healthy people.
This controversy has been going on for about 50 years. It finally became the scientific consensus in 2004 that SV40, even if it was a viable contaminant in polio vaccines, is not associated with any human cancers.
But here it is, 2011, and there are still papers that have to put in their abstracts “Simian virus-40 (SV40) is a DNA tumour virus that was introduced into the human population with contaminated poliovirus vaccine, and its role in mesothelioma is widely debated” and “Malignant mesothelioma is predominantly caused by asbestos exposure, although the association of Simian virus 40 in its pathogenesis is currently still under debate.” even though their conclusions are “Using this sensitive and specific detection method, we were unable to identify SV40 miRNA expression in human malignant pleural mesothelioma (MM) samples.” and “We found no evidence of SV40 presence in tissue samples from 103 Slovenian patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma.”
2011, and you can still go to the websites of any of The Usual Suspects, and hear sob stories from ‘patients’ who are XMRV positive AND Lyme positive AND SV40 positive, and all this must have caused their childs autism/cancer/etc… Google ‘SV40’ and crank sites out-rank the National Cancer Institute.
The undead undead dont die easily, apparently…