Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dr. Marcus Conant and Advocacy

In his quest to help his daughter get better, the Patient Advocate went to hear Dr. Marcus Conant at the recent ILADS conference. Dr. Conant was one of the courageous few that clinically engaged the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco in the early 1980's. Dr Conant did not flinch in the face of this terrible burden thrust upon him. Instead he treated these near dead and dying patients - and became a great advocate for them. He knows the business of disease advocacy, and when he speaks it makes sense to listen.

Recently Dr. Conant moved from S.F. to New York, where he is a consultant. Among other things, he has an interest in this XMRV retrovirus. Dr. Conant sees many parallels of the current situation with neuro-immune illness and the early years with AIDS. An astute Dr. Burrascano invited Dr. Conant to lecture. Dr. Conant gave his lecture without remuneration.

In his half-hour lecture entitled "Lessons learned from AIDS", Dr. Conant gave a stirring talk enumerating a number of key points. The Patient Advocate has read over his notes on this lecture and Dr. Conant's advice to us follows:

"What the AIDS patient learned to advocate for was not compassion from the public, was not sympathy from the public - what they learned to advocate for was research dollars, research funds."

"Focus energies on getting money for research. Find out the etiology of this disease." (in this case he was speaking of Lyme)

"Focus on research, not suffering."

"Don't trust the press." "The press is not your friend." - they are corrupt and have another agenda.

"Congress is your last resource, not your first." "The federal government is not your friend." You first have to prove that something is there.

"Dont blame your adversaries" "Bring them (your adversaries) in, don't cut them out." Otherwise you will have to wait until they are dead - and that could be a long time. (Dr. Conant was not talking about deadly enemies here. He expressed clearly that he would not waste any time on someone whose mind he could not change. In this above quote, he was emphasizing the notion of inclusion - and of not unnecessarily making enemies)

“Develop coordinated activism" How do we best get funds to study this disease?

A month later this presentation still reverberates in the mind and heart of the Patient Advocate. This talk could not have come at a better time.

With ME/CFS, we stand at a crossroads. At this moment the government is sitting on the HHS XMRV blood study group's phase II study. The government is worried about the blood supply. The government has the data and it is pretty convincing. What will they do and when?

Meanwhile NIH research money is not coming to the WPI. The WPI funding applications have been turned down at least four times. They are having trouble getting their current research published in legitimate journals. Why is this? Whatever limited funding they have is drying up. Whether this all is by design is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile other research into XMRV is going on around the country in both expected and unexpected places, fueled by discretionary funding or siphoned off from other projects. Researchers are drawn by natural interest to this new retrovirus. Here is one recent study. And here is another (from MN, no less). These ongoing research projects hold the key to the solution of this ME/CFS XMRV-related illness. Science is the answer. The WPI and their affiliates triggered this. They tripped the switch on all this research. This flashpoint Institute needs funding in order to come up with more answers. Research is the answer. We cannot wait any longer.

(The PA wrote about Dr. Conant before, but this needs repeating)


  1. Looking forward to his contributions, great to have him on our side.
    What he said reminded me of an interview where Carol Tavris, a social psychologist, was interviewed by Joanne Benhamu, a reporter for the Skeptic Zone podcast. Which in turn inspired me to write "Is The ME/CFS Movement Ready For The Next Phase?" -

  2. Another excellent post! Thank you!

  3. Thank you for this article, Patient Advocate. After reading this, I am eager to see Dr. Conant's lecture.

    Patricia Carter
    XMRV+, 24 years ME

  4. Did Dr. Conant give any hint where he is working?
    He seems in an excellent position to do a small study, or educate HIV doctors about the similarity of our needs. Kathy

  5. Wonderful he's getting involved. So how does he suggest we get serious funding without the government?

  6. Thank you for the references to the new XMRV studies/information, as well as for sharing with us these bits from the lecture.

    I'm similarly curious about how one could go about raising money for research, especially when so many of us are short on funds, times, and energy, after dealing with chronic illness (whether patient or carer).