CDC extends search for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome chief
By KATE BENSON
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — under a spotlight again for conflicting research on chronic fatigue syndrome — have extended the search for a scientist to lead research into the disorder.
Applicants to run the CDC’s Chronic Viral Diseases Branch now have until Friday, Sept. 17, to submit their resumes — a two-week extension. The Atlanta-based agency is looking for someone to take over a wing that, critics say, has resisted and ridiculed outside research suggesting a correlation between chronic fatigue syndrome and the XMRV retrovirus.
Dr. William C. Reeves, who ran that branch since the early 1990s, was reassigned in February as both researchers and patient groups pressed for new, dynamic leadership. However, Reeves remained controversial as he continued to publish psychosocial studies regarding CFS and chose the samples to be used in the CDC’s latest study of the disorder. That study, which found no link with XMRV, was pulled and then published in July.
FDA and NIH researchers found a prevalence of XMRV in CFS patients in a study that was also pulled and then published in August.
Former CDC virologist Suzanne Vernon, now scientific director for the CFIDS Association, has said the CDC study was designed not to detect XMRV and charged that such studies continue to absorb time, waste precious resources and fuel controversy.
A change in leadership at CDC might change that. Psychologist Dr. Fred Friedberg, president of a 500-member professional association of CFS experts, believes a new chief will need long experience in virology, immunology, and/or molecular medicine as well as strong managerial skills.
But Friedberg, in an e-mail, stressed that the CDC program is most lacking in its ability to deal effectively with the scientific community, national and international medical and health-related organizations, community and non-governmental groups and the public at large.
“To date, the leadership of the Viral Diseases Branch has conveyed an attitude of rebuff and dismissal toward the scientific and professional communities. This attitude has generated ongoing mistrust and skepticism of their plans for CFS research. …
“The IACFS/ME would like to see the position of Chief filled by someone who constructively engages with the scientific community with a shared vision of substantive biomedical research — particularly in the challenging new domains of retrovirology and molecular medicine — with the potential of developing new models of intervention in this poorly understood illness.”
A leader with open communication and fresh perspectives could restore the respect and credibility for the CDC, Friedberg said.
Virologist Dr. Elizabeth Unger is the CDC’s current acting branch chief.