What XMRV virus? What association?


In early September we commented that researchers at the University of Utah had identified an association between the presence of the XMRV virus and the occurrence of prostate cancer in about 23 percent of prostate cancer patients. However, a new report from a German research group shows exactly how difficult it is not know how to interpret this sort of “association.”

The German research team apparently found no link whatsoever between prostate tumors and the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related (XMRV) virus.

Hohn et al. studied 589 prostate tumor samples collected in Germany. According to their article in Retrovirology, they found no traces of the virus in any of the samples. In a commentary in the Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog, the senior author of this study, Dr. Bannert, is quoted as saying that “a possible geographic restriction of XMRV and its association with prostate cancer should be studied closely.” What that means is that he thinks it is possible that XMRV may cause prostate cancer in some places but not in others. The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink acknowledges that that is possible — but we don’t think it is likely!

The XMRV virus was initially discovered by Dr. Robert Silverman, a researcher in the Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.  Dr. Silverman notes that the techniques used in Germany to look for the virus “are significantly different” from the methods used by his group. He also points out that the strain of the XMRV virus that ocurs most commonly in Europe may have a slightly different RNA sequence than the one found in the United States.

It will be apparent that whether the XMRV virus has any role in prostate cancer is now a question that will need a lot more data before we can be sure of a correct answer. (But in the meantime, Lombardi et al. have shown that the XMRV virus is found in > 65 percent of men diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, so clearly the XMRV virus is associated with some clinical syndromes.)

3 Responses

  1. Now that General Petraeus is in the news with prostate cancer, it will bring more attention to prostate cancer research.

  2. Hmmmm … Maybe, for a week or two. Somehow, in my experience, that effect doesn’t last very long.

  3. Time for an update! We will soon find out whether this is a geographical issue for XMRV, or rather a methodological one.

    FYI Dr. Bannert, lead author of the Hohn et al. negative XMRV/prostate cancer study has been retesting his samples using the new antibody test developed by Dr. Singh at the University of Utah.

    Refreshing to have a researcher such as Dr Bannert who is genuinely interested in the science, and has sufficient humility and intelligence to see the opportunity to advance XMRV science by re-testing his formerly negative samples.

    In other words, stay tuned …

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