Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reeves out

William C. Reeves, head of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Research Program at the CDC, is moving on. Effective February 14, he'll become senior advisor for a another department within the agency. Dr. Elizabeth Unger will temporarily replace him.

Those of you who have ME/CFS have probably heard about this already, and almost certainly know why it's cause for celebration. For everybody else, here's the deal.

Reeves has led the CDC's CFS program for around a decade. During that time, he has done nothing to bring us closer to a cure, or even marginally effective treatment. Instead ...
  • He has diluted the definition of ME/CFS to include people who instead suffer from clinical depression.

  • Armed with the new, diluted definition, he has promoted the belief that childhood trauma and sexual abuse are linked to ME/CFS. The 2009 paper supporting this assertion fails to cite an earlier study, which found that people with ME/CFS are less likely to report such abuse.

  • He has championed cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise therapy, which may have small benefits for people with clinical depression, but do nothing for people with ME/CFS. In fact, graded exercise therapy can actually harm people with the disease.
In October of last year, the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro Immune Disease announced that it had found a strong link between ME/CFS and a retrovirus called XMRV. The discovery shone a bright light on Reeves' biases. Immediately following the announcement, he told the New York Times that "We and others are looking at our own specimens and trying to confirm it. If we validate it, great. My expectation is that we will not."

Will Reeves' move represent a significant change in the way the CDC deals with the disease? Will they take the program in a different direction? No idea.

It's possible that the CDC saw which way the wind was blowing in the wake of the XMRV discovery and decided to make Reeves the fall guy. Maybe they intend to go back to business as usual after he leaves, hoping that his removal alone will appease angry sufferers and advocates.

If that's the case, they're very wrong. It won't appease us. But it is still cause for celebration.

I like the way the wind is blowing.

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