Back To Basics

I have always found this to be a trying time of year, even before I got sick. Our family is one of blended traditions and we often wind up celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas, making the whole ordeal go on and on (bah humbug:-). My husband and I thought we had fulfilled our obligations on that front, but now we have little kids at home again. Our eldest daughter Julie, who is half native American, moved back home last year with her two children who are Pomo Indians, and our son is home from his first semester at Tulane. Talk about a mish mosh!

I am having one of those days where even my arms feel heavy. Hey, who turned up the gravity? I feel tremulous, but it doesn’t show. I would like to go to a Christmas party tonight, but I’m not sure at the moment if I’m up for it or not. I’m replaying my whole tape loop about not wanting to disappoint. It doesn’t mean I won’t feel good to go when the time comes, but it’s up in the air at this moment. I’ll use my oxygen, take an epsom salt bath, and probably get the boost I need. More bothersome than the weakness though, with which I’m accustomed to struggling, is the emotional reactivity that comes with more inflammation. I’m sure many of you can relate…

That particular symptom was one of my first. It started just a few months after the birth of my second baby at 40, and it made me feel like I was becoming a different person. For those of you that don’t know me, I had gradual onset of symptoms, no PEM and no diagnosis for a decade, followed by incorrect diagnoses. I haven’t been bothered by this particular symptom for quite a long time and reexperiencing it is sending me back to the exploration of biofeedback that began when I first became ill in 1995 and was looking for a non-pharmaceutical solution for this and other alarming symptoms. In addition to neurofeedback with Cygnet, which I use in practice, I’m enjoying trying out some of the innovations for biofeedback hometrainers and stim devices on the market now. Advancements in electronics have made for easier to use, more effective and less expensive devices. I am particularly interested in them, because most of my patients can’t access a neurfeedback therapist and I had some devices way back when that might be helpful in this context. I’ll report on this subject at some point in the near future.

The FDA committee’s rejection of Ampligen filled me with mixed emotions. As it has been clear for a long time that only a minority of patients do well on it, and as it has some significant downsides, I’m happy for the would be non-responders who will be spared yet another therapeutic failure. On the other hand, other patient groups with real diseases are allowed to try toxic treatments that have only a small chance of success. I am of course concerned about the people who need the drug being able to get it, but the tragedy for all of us is Hemispherx’s failure to figure out who to treat with their drug; thus they have contributed nothing to our understanding of the pathogensis of our disease. They have also sent a loud and clear message to other would be drug developers to avoid CFS like the plague: SHAREHOLDER ALERT: Pomerantz Law Firm Has Filed a Class Action Against Hemispherx Biopharma, Inc., and Certain Officers

The same problem with patient selection is now happening again with the early experimentation with Rituxan: patient selection is random and there are no markers to follow. If you are sick enough, want it and can pay for it, you can be a guinea pig. I predict the stats won’t be good, for the same reason that the Ampligen results weren’t. There may well be a subset of patients that would have a higher hit rate, but nobody knows which ones. For me, it’s even simpler than that. I don’t want anything to do with it, personally or professionally, if it can kill. ME/CFS is a relapsing remitting illness. MS light. The best place to start is with the safest things, try to encourage remission, which requires synergy of global strategies.

One day soon, coming to a Quest or LabCorp near you, we will have a whole genome sequencing test that insurance will pay for. Then we will finally learn something that might change our options. But until then?

Still trying to understand why oxygen works so well clinically, in the setting of patients with increased oxidative stress, I’ve been reading about “mitohormesis”. Please take a look at these papers. This is a very important concept. Oxygen has been used to good advantage in the autism community and I still believe that the diseases are related, the differences in disease expression being due to the developmental stage at onset of illness. These papers describe the mechanism by which repeated doses of increased reactive oxygen species produce cellular resistance to stress. So repeated doses of hyperoxia in patients unable to exercise might produce better mitochondrial function over time, a theoretical framework for a clinically observed phenomenon.

Since I returned to practice, I’ve been intending to turn my attention to supplement recommendations for my patients. To date, I haven’t had a protocol and my advice has been random and half-baked. The passing of Rich Van Konynenberg left a great hole in our community. I feel a great personal sense of loss, because he and I intended to share with each other and it didn’t happen, completely due to my limitations, all my small supply of energy going to my practice. Now that I am studying the subject in depth and coming across his lectures and posts on the internet, I am very upset with myself. He was a brilliant, giving man. Generous of spirit. I am learning a great deal from him now, since he shared his ideas so freely.

As my second year back in the world comes to a close, my most powerful interventions remain high dose pulsed normobaric oxygen, Deplin, B-12, organic SCD diet, hormone balancing, stopping meds if possible, eliminating environmental toxins and biofeedback. I don’t think such a program will cure anyone, but I believe it can help a lot and is almost risk free. Three and a half years ago, when Ali and I discontinued Lyme treatment, I made deals with the universe that, if Ali got better, I’d be satisfied. Acceptance is my mantra. This recent dip of mine is challenging me to use that mantra, rather than dwell on my losses which only increases suffering.

Ali is spending Christmas eve with her wonderful beau, visiting with his family in Albuquerque, experiencing their traditions, planning to bring him back here in the morning for presents and brunch. She has finished 25 of 120 credits towards her degree at U Mass Lowell with a 4.0 average. I am so grateful that she is able to lead a full life – with disability, it is true, but a happy life nevertheless. Finishing this up, I realize I don’t have it in me to go to a party tonight, then walk in the cold for Santa Fe’s Christmas walk with the kids. I don’t want to hold them up or have them worrying about me. I prefer to save my energy for tomorrow. I’m a little sad that I’m not going, but my husband doesn’t seem disappointed, so it’s all good.  It is a glass half empty vs half full moment, sitting by the fire, thinking about friends that are also alone tonight, envisioning a wonderful new year for all of us, filled with peace, love and greater wellerness. Merry Christmas.

Tonight’s song: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

EWOT?

Our current predicament reminds me of the Jack Kornfield book, After The Ecstasy, The Laundry. Retroviral causation is still a possibility, but what to do after that flash of illumination? How do we circumvent the despair that comes with getting it and losing it again? I catch myself stuck in negative thinking, feeling like I have gained so much insight into the illness, but it came too late for me to do anything “important” with it. After I wrote the last blog, I felt guilty. I mean, after where we’ve been together as a community, who wants to read about watching your diet?

I returned to work still improving, but I’m not any more. In fact, following a couple of back to back bugs that my grandson brought home from his first grade class, on top of several months of prolonged stress, I’m back to pretty definitely sick. Therefore, I’ve decided to take the next 6 weeks to rehab myself, rather than dive off the cliff again next week, when I was planning to make my first trip to Tucson. Magical thinking pretty clearly isn’t going to get me through this time. I need to take my own advice. Physician heal thyself.

What do I want to do differently with this time, besides lowering my energy output for a while and being more consistent with oxygen, diet, supplements, neurofeedback, all of which I’ve done before? For some time, I’ve wanted to try EWOT or exercise with oxygen therapy. I use oxygen to prevent PEM, but I have never exercised with it on. It requires a high flow concentrator (> 8L/min) and a mask with a reservoir that will stay on, but not restrict air flow. There is literature to support the idea that elite athletes (and rats) can do more work while wearing supplemental oxygen, though results have been equivocal as to whether exercising while hyperoxic improves performance in the long run.

I have wondered if it might not also be true that our exercise capacity could be increased this way, we who are on the low end of the bell curve. There isn’t much to go on in the literature, but there are a few papers about exercising with COPD and an oldie but goodie about using periodic hyperoxia to improve exercise capacity in CHF.

And this important paper, that addresses the question of how a treatment that increases ROS in the short term, could be good for us? It suggests that periodic administration, as opposed to long term hyperoxia, enhances antioxidant defense mechanisms, essentially a training effect for the body to fight oxidative stress: Effects of exposure of rats to periodic versus continuous hyperoxia on antioxidant potentials and free radical production in relation to ultrastructural changes in myocardial cells.

Hormesis, a concept from toxicology theory, is a blend of less is more and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Modulation of cellular response by the correct amount of stress encourages plasticity in biological systems. Cellular Stress Responses, The Hormesis Paradigm, and Vitagenes: Novel Targets for Therapeutic Intervention in Neurodegenerative Disorders. Calabrese et al. Here is an excerpt from the section “Hormesis, Mitochondria, and Neuroprotection”:

Recent findings have overturned the long-held belief that mitochondrial ROS have only a negative impact on cell function and survival. It is now clear that mitochondrial superoxide and hydrogen peroxide play important roles in a range of cellular functions, and can also activate signaling pathways that promote cell survival and disease resistance…Mitochondrial superoxide production is believed to contribute to damage of neurons in conditions ranging from chronic intermittent cerebral hypoxia to Alzheimer’s disease. However, it has been widely reported that transient exposure of neurons to low levels of superoxide that are converted into hydrogen peroxide can protect the neurons against a subsequent exposure to what would have otherwise been a lethal level of stress. This neuroprotective effect of a subtoxic increase in cellular oxidative stress has been termed “preconditioning” by neuroscientists who study stroke, but clearly falls under the broad umbrella of hormesis… [An] example of trans-cellular hormesis mediated by ROS comes from studies showing that oxidative stress can stimulate angiogenesis in the brain…

Here is another dot to connect:

  • Supplemental oxygen and muscle metabolism in mitochondrial myopathy patients.  In summary, patients with MM show impaired oxidative ATP production in their skeletal muscle, consistent with mitochondrial disease. This study has also shown that increased inspired oxygen concentration improves oxidative function in patients with mitochondrial myopathy, but not sedentary healthy individuals. It is hypothesised that the improvement in oxidative function with increased oxygen inhalation could be the result suboptimal oxygen conductance during exercise.
  • Oxygen Therapy for Mitochondrial Myopathy.  Letter to the editor, so no abstract, but here are excerpts: We report on a physician-patient with a diagnosis of undifferentiated autoimmune disease, pandysautonomia, and mitochondrial dysfunction… Her functional capacity has gradually improved, and her prednisone dose has been substantially decreased for the first time in 8 years. She can now drive around town, walk in a shopping mall, and perform some household chores. In addition, the hair that had previously disappeared from her extremities (thought to be secondary to either the autoimmune disease or medication side effect) has regrown. Prior to oxygen therapy, her soft tissues in the extremities were painful with a boggy firmness, a fibromyalgia-like finding also thought to be part of the autoimmune syndrome. This symptom has gradually, but significantly, improved through a combination of body work (osteopathy and massage) and oxygen therapy. Prior to receiving supplemental oxygen, the same type of body work had been only minimally effective… This case report suggests that supplemental oxygen can enable patients to perform higher levels of cardiopulmonary work with less lactic acid accumulation than room air alone. The use of supplemental oxygen may not only improve functional capacity and certain physiologic abnormalities but may also minimize the mitochondrial stress, which has been postulated to increase the proportion of mutant mitochondria.

I mentioned this paper recently, but it bears a closer look: Normobaric hyperoxia treatment of schizophrenia. It showed that schizophrenics improve sleeping with a nasal cannula at 4-6L/min for 7 hours at night (an uncomfortable treatment). The improvement in symptoms was confirmed by a cross-over design of the treatment and control group. The rat study of periodic vs continuous hyperoxia above suggests that the effects demonstrated in this study might be even more profound with a higher dose for a shorter time. Why would oxygen help this group of patients and what does it have to do with us? Schizophrenia is increasingly recognized as a neuroinflammatory disorder associated with HERV activation. Here is a paper suggesting even more common ground… Antibodies to retroviruses in recent onset psychosis and multi-episode schizophrenia. So, another group of patients who have antibodies that cross react with MuLV sequences, at least in the acute phase.

I wish I could share this whole paper here, because it touches on so many of the questions left in the wake of XMRV. It is well worth a careful read in its entirety: Human retroviral sequences associated with extracellular particles in autoimmune diseases: epiphenomenon or possible role in aetiopathogenesis? Perron. There has been quite a lot of work done on MSRV, a retrovirus, which lies at the interface of endogenous and exogenous retroviruses. Since ME is essentially MS light, MSRV is a good model for us, with a 10 year head start from where we stand right now. Some, but not all MS patients studied express viral particles, which may or may not be infectious. That fits the variable epidemiology seen in our families, where some patients are isolated cases, having never known anyone else with the disease, others have partners and children affected, but otherwise no evidence of being contagious, and there are even a few who believe that they have infected many people through casual contact (food sharing). The idea of recombination and copackaging of viral genomes once again brings to mind the issue of vaccines contaminated with genetic material from animal cells.

As part of the complex ‘biological life’ of such retroviruses, it also appears necessary to study copackaged ERV genomes which may account for their potential pathogenicity by e.g., recombinations or propagation of defective clone expressing pathogenic molecules, and may be at the origin of their rapid loss of infectivity by defective interference and/or ERV takeover. The complexity of retroviral genome studies in these situations, represented in this review by IDDMK in autoimmune diabetes and MSRV in multiple sclerosis, can become a major difficulty for a definite conclusion.

The multiple sclerosis-associated retrovirus and its HERV-W endogenous family: a biological interface between virology, genetics, and immunology in human physiology and disease. Dolei/Perron 

The HERV-W family is one of the most studied, after the discovery of its MSRV founder member (Perron et al. 1989, 1997b). Our haploid genome contains about 70 gag, 100 pro, and 30 env HERV- W related regions (Voisset et al. 2000), but numbers can vary (Mirsattari et al. 2001; Zawada et al.2003); in silico expression data indicate that 22 complete HERV-W subfamilies from chromosomes 1 to 3, 5 to 8, 10 to 12, 15, 19, and X are randomly expressed in various tissues (Kim et al. 2008). Presently, this family is active and generates new recombinant copies in cancer cells (Yi et al. 2004), retains characteristics of functional retroviral envelopes (An et al. 2001; Kim et al. 2008), and HERV-W transposition and retrosequence integration have been evidenced in the human genome through interactions with active LINE-1 elements (Costas, 2002; Pavlicek et al. 2002). Thus, non-Mendelian genetic rules can apply to HERV-W elements: a key feature to understanding their biology.

None of the known stably inserted HERV-W elements is replication-competent (Blond et al. 1999): a study of HERV-W intragenomic spread (Costas, 2002) confirmed that, in the few individuals used for genomewide analysis, the sequenced HERV-W elements lack intact open reading frames (ORFs) in all genes within a single copy. This finding, and the unusual short period of evolutionary time of HERV-Ws (5 million years, estimated on average integration age of different subfamilies), suggested that MSRV might be either an exogenous HERV-W, as in animal ERVs (Palmarini et al. 1996), or a nonubiquitous replication-competent member, or a partly defective but nonubiquitous copy seldom complemented within the HERV-W family (Perron et al. 1997b, 2000; Komurian-Pradel et al. 1999; Dolei, 2005; Serra et al. 2003). Today, though reasonable arguments in favor of the existence of a replication-competent HERV-W member, which might even be ‘‘exogenous,’’ have been provided (Belshaw et al. 2005; Costas, 2002; Perron et al. 1997b, 1992), the very nature of MSRV remains to be confirmed by future studies (Voisset et al. 2008).

They can follow viral load in patients and there is clinical correlation… From the same paper:

A direct parallelism was found between MSRV positivity and load (in blood, CSF, and brain samples) and MS temporal and clinical stages, as well as active/remission phases (Dolei et al. 2002); at MS onset, 50% of CSFs were MSRV positive, and positivity increased with pro- gression. Importantly, MSRV presence in CSF at MS onset was related to poor prognosis; starting from otherwise comparable conditions, after 3 and 6 years mean EDSS (expanded disability status scale), an- nual relapse rate, therapy requirement, and progres- sion to secondary-progressive MS were significantly higher (Figure 2) in patients with detectable MSRV CSF load at onset (Sotgiu et al. 2002, 2006a).

A recent study (Mameli et al. 2008) found that plasmatic MSRV load of naive patients with active MS was directly related to MS duration; longitudinal evaluation of patients during 1 year of IFNb therapy showed that MS progression index (EDSS/MS years) was reduced for the majority of patients, whose viremia became rapidly undetectable. Notably, one patient had atypically high viremia at enrolment and, after initial virus inhibition and clinical benefit, had MSRV reemergence, accompanied by strong progres- sion with therapy failure. The authors concluded that evaluation of plasmatic MSRV could be considered the first prognostic marker for the individual patient to monitor disease progression and therapy outcome (Mameli et al. 2008).

Just published: HERVs Expression in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Balestriere et al, an addition to the growing literature supporting the idea that activated HERVs are involved in autoimmunity, an appealing idea, providing an explanation of why the immune system might become confused as to what is self and what is not. The authors of this paper found increased expression of HERV-H, one of the HERV families implicated in complex chronic disease, in autistics as compared to controls. They also report expression inversely proportional to age and proportional to disease severity.

Our answers lie at the interface of retrovirology, genetics, molecular medicine  and toxicology. The further I go in my attempt to understand the problem on a biochemical level, the less optimistic I am with respect to so called “targeted therapies”. We simply aren’t smart enough and the system we are trying to influence is too complex. This is why therapies that affect the system globally are so attractive. Which brings me back to EWOT. Perhaps the poor, misunderstood Dr. Wessely could let his patients try some oxygen with their GET, now that he says he thinks they do in fact have some sort of a physical problem, in addition to being lazy, crazy and faking.

So, EWOT for ME? I ordered a couple of masks to try. Now I’ve really gone and done it. Set myself up by telling you all about it:). I will report back soon.

Today’s song: Fire And Rain by James Taylor

Recovery post-XMRV

I have a lot to say today and too little energy with which to say it, having just lost ten days of life force to red tape and worry about complying with arbitrary and capricious rules. Between states with differing regulations, plus the DEA which has yet a different set of regulations, I feel like I need a law degree to practice medicine. The system is broken and it is incredibly hard to take care of patients appropriately. When I complained about it recently to a doctor friend in an email, he replied, “My tombstone should read: He died of red tape.” It was always bad, but now nobody even pretends it has anything to do with caring for patients.

My recent month long intensive in Hawaii, treating two young women with ME/CFS and many years of disability, has further convinced me that the therapies I am using are able to tip the balance in favor of a slow climb to wellerness. For the most part, the things I’m doing are not enough alone, but together these therapies are synergistic and additive with continued use. Everything I am doing, and why, is documented and referenced on this blog. The search function in the header works well. The patients are fragile and a lot of tinkering is necessary.

In a nutshell, high dose pulsed oxygen (normobaric and mild hyperbaric) to improve inflammation and mitochondrial function, bioavailable folic acid derivatives for improved methylation (Deplin and folinic acid), sublingual or chewable methyl B-12, Vit D3 replacement, infusions of a modified Meyer’s cocktail including taurine, glutathione by IV push and neurofeedback. Most significantly, I see improvement from weaning inessential drugs, replacing synthetics with bioidenticals, and using herbal treatments instead of pharmaceuticals. In particular, medical Cannabis, if tolerated, for patients who live in a legal state, is a more effective and much safer alternative for chronic pain than opiod drugs, which damage the gut and cause central sensitization over time.

I consider diet to be a cornerstone of treatment. Food as medicine. I advocate a modified SCD diet, allowing whole grain rice, for patients with neuroimmune illnesses that almost always include a GI component in the symptom complex. I encourage SCD yogurt as a probiotic, superfemented to be lactose free and have a high live bacteria count. I also advocate eating organic, and no processed or GMO foods. In particular, avoid the excitotoxins, aspartame and MSG. Here is an important YouTube, by Dr. Terry Wahls, in remission from a wheel chair through dietary intervention alone:

I received some flak for saying that I’m a lumper, not a splitter, with respect to segregating subsets of patients, except for research. From the point of view of clinical medicine, breaking it down into separate cohorts doesn’t help me at all. It is all neuro-immune illness. The therapeutic options are extremely limited. The same things are worth trying in other cohorts also. Many, if not most, of the therapies that are being used in the ASD community are applicable to us. ME is on a continuum with MS and ALS. GWI and chronic Lyme Disease wind up clinically indistinguishable from ME. Fibromyalgia is a subset, not a separate illness. Again, the same treatments are applicable for the same reasons, even if the illnesses look a bit different.

The first thing that happens when there is a response to therapy is improved resilience. A push that would have caused a long crash, doesn’t, but brings minor payback only. At first most everything still feels crappy all the time, though some things have improved. Then some moments that aren’t so crappy creep in. Then some actual good moments. Crappy always comes back though, and when it does, it feels like falling back into the black hole. But it passes much more quickly than before. Improvement needs to be judged in fairly large increments of time, at least 6 months to be sure. One of the young women I treated last month posted this on her FaceBook a few days ago, “I had a good day today; I don’t think I’ve said that in 8 years :)”. That, after only a month of nearly risk free treatment. A long way from a cure, but relief is relief.

Here are some new noteworthy references with respect to oxygen therapy:

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Mikovits on Sue Vogan’s radio show, In Short Order, finally able to speak openly in public. The interview is archived here. I thought she was very clear and brave as she answered all the hard questions. XMRV is not a human pathogen. There could be other retroviruses as yet undetected. The mistakes made will inform future research. I personally felt abandoned after the Lipkin paper, subsequent interview by Dr. Lipkin and the press conference, but I am encouraged to hear that he and Dr. Ruscetti are still working on our behalf. They don’t know what the positive serologies mean.  It is tragic that she can’t go back and find out what went wrong so that everyone can learn from it, but much has been learned nevertheless. The only thing she said that I took exception with was that there is no evidence that XMRV has ever infected an animal. Persistent infection has been demonstrated in Macaques after parenteral introduction of virus, exposures similar to what has been happening regularly throughout the history of injected biologicals, dating back to vaccinations with the exudate of cow pox lesions, which certainly contained bovine leukemia viruses, similar to HTLV, and are artificially transferrable to other non-bovine species:

And take a look at this one: Long-Term Infection and Vertical Transmission of a Gammaretrovirus in a Foreign Host Species

So it isn’t XMRV. Other cell lines express other infectious animal retroviruses. Live attenuated vaccines are grown in animal cells that express exogenous retroviruses. Other vaccines contain DNA fragments. Here is the government’s list of vaccine excipients: Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary by vaccine and by excipient. That’s now. The early vaccines were attenuated in live animals. Mouse brains injected into people.

But, say it isn’t an exogenous retrovirus. Why then might antiretrovirals have an effect, in addition to the obvious elephant in the room? The drugs might be preventing transcription of activated HERV’s: Association of human endogenous retroviruses with multiple sclerosis and possible interactions with herpes viruses.

The hypothesis that human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) play a role in autoimmune diseases is subject to increasing attention. HERVs represent both putative susceptibility genes and putative pathogenic viruses in the immune-mediated neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS). Gammaretroviral HERV sequences are found in reverse transcriptase-positive virions produced by cultured mononuclear cells from MS patients, and they have been isolated from MS samples of plasma, serum and CSF, and characterised to some extent at the nucleotide, protein/enzyme, virion and immunogenic level. Two types of sequences, HERV-H and HERV-W, have been reported. No known HERV-H or HERV-W copy contains complete ORFs in all prerequisite genes, although several copies have coding potential, and several such sequences are specifically activated in MS, apparently resulting in the production of complete, competent virions. Increased antibody reactivity to specific Gammaretroviral HERV epitopes is found in MS serum and CSF, and cell-mediated immune responses have also been reported. Further, HERV-encoded proteins can have neuropathogenic effects. The activating factor(s) in the process resulting in protein or virion production may be members of the Herpesviridae. Several herpes viruses, such as HSV-1, VZV, EBV and HHV-6, have been associated with MS pathogenesis, and retroviruses and herpes viruses have complex interactions. The current understanding of HERVs, and specifically the investigations of HERV activation and expression in MS are the major subjects of this review, which also proposes to synergise the herpes and HERV findings, and presents several possible pathogenic mechanisms for HERVs in MS.

Or antiretrovirals, reverse transcriptase and integrase inhibitors, might be inhibiting retroposons:

What makes jumping genes jump? Demethylation.

Reverse transcriptase inhibitors presumably inhibit other viruses besides retroviruses if reverses transcription is required in the replicative process. Viread is used to treat chronic hepatitis B, for example. Hepatitis B is a DNA virus that replicates through an RNA intermediate and uses reverse transcription.

Telomerase is a reverse transcriptase. Therefore, arguably RTI’s might cause faster aging, but might tip the balance away from developing cancer. The more you think about it all, the more you realize that, like all drugs, antiretrovirals are blunt swords with many possible mechanisms of effect, all of which says that clinical trials are in order. One would think that the manufacturers would be interested in new indications for their drugs.

My own illness could be explained by a post polio syndrome caused by an attenuated virus, but it doesn’t fit my daughter. Does an enterovirus explain the vertical transmission seen in our families or a response to  antiretrovirals? Does anyone reading know the answer to those questions? Many of us remember the sugar cube that held the first oral polio vaccine. Polio virus can persist: Transmissibility and persistence of oral polio vaccine viruses: implications for the global poliomyelitis eradication initiative.

Protein from helper viruses and recombination events can rescue defective virus. Innumerable chances have occurred: Science Fiction or Fact? 35 years ago, when I was in medical school, autism and MS were rare. Autoimmunity has skyrocketed beyond belief, as has cancer.

Here’s an unsettling paper. Chemical Induction of Endogenous Retrovirus Particles from the Vero Cell Line of African Green Monkeys. Vero cells are present in the DTaP-Hep B-IPV, Poliovirus inactivated and Rotavirus vaccines. AzaC, one of the chemicals used in this paper is a demethylator. Other methods used in the lab to activate ERV’s and amplify retroviruses in tissue culture are radiation and steroid hormones, bringing to mind the myriad ways in which our environment is contaminated, contributing to the cluster fuck for the genetically susceptible and overexposed. Let’s wrap up today with this article which I haven’t finished yet, but it looks to be well researched: What Is Coming Through That Needle? The Problem of Pathogenic Vaccine Contamination.

 Today’s song: Burn One Down

Life’s A Long Song

It’s been a very strange and unusual three years. The Lipkin study was the closing of the door opened by the Science paper in October 2009. For me, the shift from thinking about neuroborreliosis to retroviral causation for ME/CFS led to clinical decisions that have resulted in great improvement for both Ali and me. We are not well, but we are both leading full and meaningful lives, within the confines of illness. Existing within the confines of illness means the same thing for us that it does for other people with disabilities who need accommodations. It does not mean trapped in endless suffering with no help in sight. Prior to the fall of 2009, Ali and I spent a few really grim years couch bound together, wondering if a quick merciful end wouldn’t be a good thing. Now we are working and going to school. We are even playing some. We need to do it “our way”, but it is happening.

My personal journey through the world of XMRV was littered with betrayal and abandonment, so in a sense, I’m glad that part of it is over. I’m left to practice medicine much as I did before, but with new insight. Three years of reading retrovirology has changed my view of many things, medical, scientific and political. I’m in Hawaii right now treating two young ME women. Much of what I’m doing is a refinement of what I did in my last practice a decade ago. My own emotional adjustment to the collapse of the science involves accepting that the tools I have now are all there is likely to be for a long time. There isn’t going to be a cure and it is a long way off before conventional medicine has anything better to offer than what’s listed on the Mayo Clinic site: sleep meds and antidepressants, which many of us don’t tolerate.  Not even pain meds or anxiolytics. Exercise and therapy, because we are so overly focused on our symptoms. Back on the trash heap.

So where’s the redemption in this story that makes it worth writing about? ME, or ME/CFS, or CFIDS (since I’m a lumper, not a splitter) is a relapsing, remitting illness. It can be coaxed into remission. Remission doesn’t mean normal or healthy. It means not suffering so much. It is a process of encouraging healing and discouraging inflammation, requiring a gentle, multi-pronged approach that relies on synergy, tinkering and luck. Find some maneuvering room, a key for the lock. It is possible to stop the downward spiral, tip the balance and start the slow climb out. Unfortunately, there is never a uniform response to a given therapy with this illness, so treatment can’t be formulaic. When recovery does start, it is slow and fragile. It must be nurtured and it takes years, that from personal experience, since I have only been back in practice for a little over a year. Although, I have heard of spontaneous recoveries many years in, most involve hard work and careful choices. One thing I know for sure. There was never a patient population less suited to medical heroics.

Meanwhile, I sit here in the weird position of being better and still apparently improving on Viread for 2 1/2 years. I was so bad 4 years ago, nobody expected me to do anything productive ever again. Ask my ex-Lyme doc. I had a sleep disorder to rival any of my readers and I know some of you have pretty spectacular sleep problems. I now sleep normally. Even normal dreaming has returned in the last 6 months or so. My gut is also functioning normally on a modified SCD diet, 6 years after emergency surgery for a small bowel obstruction and a Crohn’s diagnosis. My intractable peripheral neuropathy pain, which once required opiates, is now little more than background noise except at the worst moments. PEM is reduced, but still problematic. I can exercise a little, being careful not to overdo, because it feels good in the moment. I won’t list Ali’s symptoms, but she is similarly improved on Viread and Isentress. Her horizons are ever expanding, her illness less and less restrictive. Have we done other things at the same time? Yes. Will antiretrovirals for ME/CFS be studied at all? Not a chance. Our government just spent a couple of million dollars to ensure that ideas like mine stay marginalized.

Dr. Lipkin was quoted on the IMEA FaceBook page in response to questions about whether any “positives” were found, “The investigators reported results as positive or negative according to their own criteria. The only requirement was that once criteria were established results could not be changed through modifications in criteria. I know this is not the intention of those who continue to pose these questions; nonetheless, the impact of this continued challenge to work of the team is that some people in the scientific community who might contribute are becoming reluctant to work on CFS/ME.” Yet, at the press conference, he encouraged us to advocate for ourselves more effectively. So we need to ACT UP, but be nice about it. Any ideas? We are a group in desperate need of effective advocacy. It’s not only the middle aged going down. There is a tidal wave of young people. They are not as visible as their autistic cousins, but just as profoundly disabled. Who is going to care for them when their parents are gone? We need to start advocating for them effectively now.

Life’s A Long Song by Jethro Tull

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

The Lipkin study buries XMRV once and for all, completely leaving aside the question of an infectious chimera out and about that contaminates a clean lab in a matter of days and is capable of infecting monkeys. But it wasn’t in the blood of the patients or controls in this study. That much is clear, forgetting the unscientific claim that this study, or any study, is definitive of anything. Science is self-correcting, as Dr. Lipkin reminded us, but only if the game isn’t rigged. This is a repeat performance of the definitive study that showed that the MMR doesn’t cause autism, which also side-stepped the bigger question. The use of the word definitive tells us we are dealing with politics, not science. Sleight of hand.

The paper didn’t even try to speculate as to the one positive finding, that 6% of the study group, patients and controls, cross reacted with a test designed to detect SFFV, a nasty murine retrovirus. Whatever it is they are picking up with this serology test, “modified slightly” from the one once used at the WPI, the various PCR’s used in this study, optimized to detect XMRV and a piece of a “generic” pMLV, couldn’t detect it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

A young friend emailed after watching the press conference asking that I blog because my blogs are hopeful. I’m not sure how to spin this as hopeful other than XMRV got us into national news as having a real disease. It’s good that there are people studying us, even if they are abandoning the hypothesis of best fit. So, as my friend asked, do we still have retroviruses? The answer is everybody has retroviruses. 8% of the human genome consists of retroviral sequences. It is becoming accepted that these sequences are capable of causing trouble in some people, whether they produce fully replicative virus or not. SFFV is a replication-defective virus that causes disease in mice: The spleen focus-forming virus (SFFV) envelope gene, when introduced into mice in the absence of other SFFV genes, induces acute erythroleukemia. S Ruscetti

The Lipkin study in no way disproves the hypothesis that simple animal retroviruses, alpha, beta and gamma, parenterally introduced, in the form of vaccines and from other sources, e.g. hybridomas, xenografts, etc., have recombined and rescued defective endogenous retroviruses, and/or created new and as yet unrecognized exogenous retroviruses. The existence of XMRV, is supportive of this theory. There have been so many chances for it to happen, in addition to the possibility that it happened naturally. This means that we each may have something a little different. Which is why they can’t find “it”.

Personally, as a defender of Dr. Mikovits during this entire mess, I appreciated Dr. Lipkin for openly defending her struggle against the Whittemores. The scientist who put the nail in XMRV’s coffin. Dr.’s Mikovits, Ruscetti and Alter completed the difficult task of acknowledging they’d been mistaken. Our disease has finally been deemed “serious and life threatening” to enable fast tracking of drugs, should there be any drugs worth fast tracking, which seems unlikely if nobody is studying the root cause of the disease, only looking at downstream effects.

I’m not even going to question the study design, patient selection, specimen handling, that the patients chose their own controls, etc. I accept at face value that Dr. Lipkin put together a convincing study in order to put the final nail in the coffin about XMRV. No surprise there. I assumed the study would be negative. But I expected the authors to have the intellectual integrity to state that ruling out XMRV does not rule out retroviruses. Instead they allowed the press to distort in predictable ways. I therefore must conclude that Dr. Lipkin plays for the home team. His task was to kill it and reassimilate the renegade scientists into the group. To make sure that nobody does any clinical trials of arv’s, the paper suggests that the patient community has been saved from that terrible fate by this definitive paper. Mikovits’ name right there with Coffin’s. Task accomplished. But even Coffin said that it might be another retrovirus. Smart people allowing distortion and partial truths. It looks to me like we’ve been thrown back on the trash heap. From the Wall Street Journal. Viruses not to blame for chronic fatigue syndrome after all. Thank you Mr. WSJ editor for that headline, suitable for a tabloid.

Why do I still believe retroviruses are involved in causation in the face of so much evidence against XMRV? Even though we don’t have XMRV or active replicating virus with some certain degree of sequence homology to a piece of a “generic” pMLV, retroviral causation has not been ruled out. It is still the best explanation for all of the observed phenomena. It works as a clinical model to explain the symptoms and put treatments in context. It even explains the obvious but still unstudied epidemiology. Dr. Mikovits was trying to sequence what she believed were positive cultures that were negative for XMRV. She sent out letters to that effect to patients.

Then there is the response to antiretrovirals. Dr. Snyderman has presented amazing data, that most of the scientists involved in this story have seen and ignored. He has not been cured, but his leukemic cells and his cells capable of making cytokines have decreased with treatment. Cancer treated like a chronic disease, like diabetes or AIDS. I don’t think they are stupid, so they don’t want to know. Why not?

If the response of longstanding ME/CFS patients to limited arv’s (RTI’s and II’s alone) had been more robust, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. It wasn’t. There were early responses that were encouraging, but with no way to follow, after a while, you’re left not knowing what is happening. Meaning we don’t know how to use the drugs, not that they have no value. Maybe they should be pulsed or given low dose for N chain termination. Maybe a protease inhibitor is necessary for full effect. Dr. Snyderman is documenting an ongoing response to Kaletra. The best case we heard about anecdotally was a teenager, hadn’t been sick long, responded fully and the drugs were stopped at 6 months, remaining well as far as I know. It is beyond sad that this case was not published. While new teenagers get sick with an “untreatable” disease, they are denied a trial of very safe existing drugs. It could have been studied for a lot less than the 2 million dollars spent to prove it isn’t XMRV.

I have tried to discontinue Viread on three occasions, since our drug co-pays are a problem, and I haven’t been able to do it. I get sicker within days and feel better quickly after restarting. Can I prove it? No of course not. The disease is a relapsing remitting illness all on it’s own. However, I didn’t have trouble stopping AZT or Isentress. I have been under enormous stress since June, with one thing after another, one of those times in life when the waves just keep coming, too close together for recovery. I am a little worse than I was, but only a little. I’ve even been able to ride the tandem a couple of times recently, only 5 miles on the flat, but no PEM after. Ali continues to do extremely well on Viread and Isentress. She has considered stopping arv’s, but has decided not to rock the boat at this time, since improvement seems to be continuing very, very slowly. The possible downside besides financial? I don’t know of any for Ali. I’ve aged a lot in the last couple of years, though it is on time, coming after a late menopause, so I can’t really blame Viread for that. I heard from a patient yesterday who did well on AZT, Viread and Isentress for a year, but then went back to baseline for another year with some new symptoms that could have been drug related, though hard to know. As I said, we don’t know how to use these drugs. We have no way to monitor. That doesn’t mean they have no value.

But Dr. Lipkin told Dr. Racaniello:

I know some in the community –the scientific community—feel that this was not money well spent, but the fact is, I think that we have obviated a lot of, you know, missteps that might have followed with clinical trials and such for antiretrovirals. And in addition, we have been able to establish a sample bank that will be helpful for years to come. And we’ve been able to hold, I think, the attention of the community.

So Dr. Snyderman, Ali and I are missteps…

From the 3rd paragraph of the paper:

Since the index publications, clinics have been established for the treatment of ME/CFS with antiretroviral drugs…

This is a complete fabrication. Where are these clinics?

It is completely incorrect, and unscientific, to conclude anything from the Lipkin study other than they didn’t find XMRV or a particular pMLV sequence. That’s a long way from no viruses or even no retroviruses in CFS. How is it that 2 million dollars was spent to tell us what we already knew a year ago? No reproducible assay. 2 million dollars and all that effort to prove what isn’t. For three years, we’ve been waiting for the scientific community to run with the ball. Now it is pretty clear, the ball has been dropped, while they huddle to congratulate each other on a job well done. The status quo is restored.

 

Today’s song: Who’ll Stop The Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Integrity

In cancer science, many “discoveries” don’t hold up, by Sharon Begley, a disheartening story, published today. Without integrity, there can be no science. This is probably how we got sick in the first place, though in the early years, it was more likely scientists doing whatever popped into their heads willy nilly, like Victor Frankenstein, with no framework for evaluating the possible consequences. With statistics like the one presented in Ms. Begley’s report, it seems folly to expect “science” to save us now. The system is completely broken.

The same problem with integrity in reporting results extends to doctors. This problem is particularly rampant amongst LLMDs, who continue to make exorbitant amounts of money harming patients, extolling the virtues of “sophisticated” combinations of antibiotics for “seronegative Lyme”. Not that Lyme Disease isn’t real, but it can’t be eradicated in the way they are trying to do it. Problems with a generalized lack of scientific integrity aside, here is the first paper I’ve ever read that adds something to the clinical picture.

Persistence of Borrelia burgdorferi in Rhesus Macaques following Antibiotic Treatment of Disseminated Infection by Embers et al.

They infected monkeys with Bb and found that treated or untreated, the monkeys demonstrated persistence of the organism and inflammatory changes. Therefore trying to eradicate Lyme with endless courses of antibiotics is not the most sensible course of action, acknowledging the exception of a small subset who do relatively well on old fashioned acne treatment. Antibiotics are a double edged sword at best, particularly in the setting of preexisting dysbiosis.

My hat is off to these researchers for their fine study, sensible discussion and clear attempt to give physicians in practice something to work with. A marker!

In some cases, patients who have been treated for Lyme disease experience persistent symptoms. The assertion that further antibiotic treatment is warranted in these cases is a matter of contention and considerable debate [33,34,35,36]. Our results indicate that disseminated spirochetes of two different B. burgdorferi strains can persist in the primate host following high dose, or long- lasting antibiotic therapy. In terms of disease, only objective signs of disease post-therapy may be measurable in an animal model. While we did not find gross signs of disease postmortem, in Experiment 1 we did identify heart sections with inflammatory infiltrates in three of the treated animals. In addition, several animals, both treated and untreated showed sections of heart and meninges that were positive by immunofluorescence for B. burgdorferi. At the molecular level, B. burgdorferi DNA would indicate the presence of organisms, live or dead. The detection of RNA, however, should indicate that those present are metabolically active and thus alive. In Experiment 1, spirochetal DNA and RNA were detected in the tissues of a few animals, independent of treatment. This may reflect a low spirochetal burden, lack of flaB transcription [37], and/or seclusion in untested tissues.

And this:

The most pressing question in terms of human disease is whether or not spirochetes remain pathogenic after antimicrobial therapy. Similarly, do spirochetes persist long-term, or are they eventually cleared by the host? Clearly, the phenotype of persistent organisms needs to be elucidated. These studies support the use of the C6 test for diagnosis and measurement post-treatment; however, the absolute quantification of antibody levels may be essential in determining treatment efficacy for PTLDS patients, as low levels (yet above baseline) may indicate presence of residual spirochetes or antigen. Finally, the use of variable and pulse-dosing regimens of antibiotics may improve efficacy [43] and this warrants testing in an appropriate model.

That pretty much says it all I think. My daughter and I were an inappropriate model for a doctor testing various pulse-dosing regimens by trial and error on sick people, instead of monkeys. Saving a few isn’t an excuse for worsening the tenuous condition of the others, while claiming cure of a huge percentage, with no data, especially since the “treatment” takes years to evaluate. Treatment worse than the disease. Russian roulette. From my email yesterday:

I  want to very much thank you for steering me away from ILADS doctors! As I said, I went ahead and did a trial of antibiotics to “provoke” Igenex testing, just to settle the question for myself, and I ended up with acute pancreatitis (I do not drink alcohol; it was the antibiotics), and then an immune fatigued body so sick I was hospitalized twice with pneumonia after catching a flu (my husband says he was worried I was near death — I had pneumonia for six weeks).

After all this (and what would have been thousands of dollars in testing if I weren’t billed at the Medicare rate by Igenex and if the testing hadn’t been covered for me  by insurance), my labs for Lyme AND coinfections were flat negative (except for band 41 and mycoplasma). The ILADS doctor nonetheless encouraged me, based on this, to travel to another specialist and get a port, so we could provoke and continue treatment with even stronger drugs — and said I mostly certainly had “seronegative lyme” no matter what because of my symptoms of ME and tourette’s syndrome. I am glad my insurance and Medicare covered most of this. I am also lucky to not have died or had permanent effects (other than a collection of snake oil). Your words of warning were what kept me from damaging my body and taking the seductive and expensive hope.

The 5000 year old mummified corpse recently unthawed and autopsied had Lyme Disease. Iceman Autopsy. Although he was old enough to be developing atherosclerosis, he died of trauma. He had significant health problems, but at least he wasn’t infected with something created in a lab. They’ve sequenced the entire genome of a person dead 5000 years, not that that doesn’t have value, but when are they going to get around to us?

And hot off the presses from MedScape:

March 29, 2012 — The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has increased by 78% since 2002, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. However, the exact reason for this increase is unclear.

Overall, the report’s data, derived from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) surveillance network, show that in 2008, 1 in 88 children aged 8 years — 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls — had an ASD diagnosis by age 8, a significant jump from the current estimate of 1 in 110.

Their conclusion? It must be because of better diagnosis, reporting and access to services! Oh that’s a relief. We can all relax now. In the meantime, our little team continues to make slow progress, with no paid help to complete an IRB approved Family Study. I don’t think Dr. Snyderman and I ever thanked everyone publicly for taking the time and energy to participate in the Informal Family Study last year. We learned a lot. The problem was the extremely labor intensive data entry, incomplete data sets, and no controls, but it made it clear that there is much to be learned. We are working slowly to bring it to reality. We are all in different parts of the country, with different primary responsibilities, but we will get it done. Stay tuned.

Much aloha.

Today’s song: Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkle

Link if embedded video is not streaming well:

The Sound of Silence – Madison Square Garden, NYC – 2009