How Research into CFS Turned into an Ugly Fight

July 23, 2012

23Jul (The Daily Beast)How did a star researcher into the medical mystery of chronic fatigue syndrome end up in jail and unemployed? For the first time, Judy Mikovits tells her story. On Nov. 9, 2011, Judy Mikovits, a well-known chronic fatigue syndrome researcher at the center of one of the strangest scientific dramas in recent memory, found herself devising the following plan.

She would have to escape by boat.

There was a man in a car in front of her house in Oxnard, Calif., waiting to serve her with a temporary restraining order demanding the return of stolen property to the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nev., from which she recently had been fired.

She took the small boat moored behind her house down into the harbor, where she got onto a friend’s sailboat and hid there for five days.

Judy Mikovits, Ph.D.

By Nov. 14, Mikovits was back at her Ventura County house, having retained a lawyer who assured her that there was no warrant out for her arrest, Mikovits told me last month in her first interview since her legal trouble began. Yet within one week of that phone call, her doorbell rang. Her husband, David Nolde, answered it, and a female voice spoke from the threshold.

“She said, ‘Is Dr. Judy in? It’s Jaime, I’m a patient, she knows me, she said I could come by any time,’ ” Mikovits recalled. “And I said, ‘It’s okay, David, I’ll take it.’

“I went down to the front door. And she said, ‘Remember me?’ And I said ‘No.’ And then everybody jumped out of the bushes. She showed her little badge. The police cars went and surrounded the house.”

Mikovits’ arrest, for possession of stolen property—her own research notebooks from the lab where she worked—was an unlikely outcome for the 54-year-old. Having spent 20 years at the National Cancer Institute, Mikovits is a seasoned research scientist, an expert on viruses. In 2006 she accepted the position of research director at the brand new Whittemore Peterson Institute, a private lab that had been co-founded by Annette and Harvey Whittemore, one of the most politically connected couples in Nevada. The sometimes-debilitating disease she went to study, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), has long baffled scientists, and sufferers were desperate for information. The Whittemores themselves had founded the institute because their daughter, Andrea, now in her thirties, has struggled with CFS for years.

What happened there sounds like fiction: a scientific breakthrough, suspicion of contamination, a well-meaning scientist, a nonprofit institute, a fee-for-service diagnostic lab, and a legal battle that is still unfolding. In the process, Mikovits plunged from a leading light in the fight against a mysterious medical condition to an unemployed woman with a mark on her name in the world of science.

For more on this story go to The Daily Beast.com

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