By Joshua Nicholson
HIV is not the cause of AIDS. This statement may seem foolish — and wrong — to many, but for Peter Duesberg and a growing number of AIDS dissidents it is the reality.
In his office at UC Berkeley sits Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology. Above him hangs his award for 1971 California Scientist of the year. It serves to remind him of his brilliance and success. Duesberg, a world-renowned biologist who at age 33 gained tenure at Berkeley, is known for isolating the first cancer gene in 1970.
Among other awards, he was the recipient of the seven-year National Institute of Health Outstanding Scientific Investigator grant.
Despite multiple failed proposals, a new grant application to Phillip Morris now sits in front of him. The prestigious scientist gave up his fairytale career when he began to question HIV as the cause of AIDS.
Duesberg proposed the hypothesis that recreational drugs, antiviral chemotherapy, and malnutrition are the cause of AIDS. In his proposal he says that AIDS is not infectious, it is highly non-random, and that HIV cannot be found in AIDS patients.
In defense of his argument, he points to the fact that there was no reported case of a doctor or health care worker contracting AIDS, rather than just HIV, from 1981 to 2004.
The fact that AIDS is highly non-random in the U.S. and Europe, unlike every other viral epidemic, suggests that a virus does not cause it. Duesberg explains that about two-thirds of AIDS patients in the U.S. and Europe are male homosexuals who have used nitrite inhalants, amphetamines, cocaine and other aphrodisiac and psychoactive drugs for years. A third of AIDS patients are intravenous drug users.
Lastly, he says that HIV cannot even be found in AIDS patients.
“There is no viral load, only antibodies,” said Duesberg. “The load is generated on the bench by the scientist.”
In contrast, conventional pathogenic viruses are abundant and antibodies have not yet neutralized them. He points to recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) done by Rodriguez, et. al. from 2006, in which they found the “viral load” to have no correlation with AIDS. HIV RNA “loads” are high, low, or undetectable in asymptomatic carriers and AIDS.
The television show “AIDS: The World is Dying for the Truth” began with the words, “In the course of human history, never before has a force either natural or man-made had a more devastating impact on the human race than a small virus (HIV).” The fear and desperation in these words has remained unwavering since they were first spoken in 1988. The fear is with good reason, as the AIDS pandemic has resulted in an estimated 32 million deaths.
Stephen Allen, AIDS dissident and producer of the documentary “HIV-AIDS: Fact or Fraud?,” has been following the AIDS epidemic since 1980, when it was thought of as a “strange gay disease.”
The disease and its cause was first announced on April 23,1984 by Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler. It was announced in absence of any peer-reviewed experiments or articles. Alongside her stood Ph.D. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV. A prediction that a vaccine would be available within two years followed soon after the announcement. Now, 23 years later, the world is still without a vaccine and without a cure.
Currently, $22.8 billion for the 2007 federal budget for HIV/AIDS activities is awaiting congressional approval. Research will make up 12 percent of the amount, at $2.6 billion dollars.
“IÂ originally believedÂ the 1984 press conference had nailed the cause, and that the blood supply was now going to be safe,” Allen said in an email to City On a Hill Press.
Allen had accepted Heckler’s speech, as most of the world did that day. What changed his mind?
“The thing that really started me thinking, was the way they kept extending the latency period from HIV infection to AIDS and then to death,” Allen said. The average time from HIV infection to AIDS is 10 years.
“Whatever the virus could possibly do, it would have done in a few days,” Duesberg said. “HIV replicates in 24 hours; there is nothing slow about it.”
Doctor Phillip Berman, head of the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, feels that the “controversy has long been resolved.”
“ The ‘coup de grÃ¢ce’ for the Duesberg hypothesis was the success of the current anti-viral drugs,” he said.
In 1995, Berman co-founded Vaxgen, a biopharmaceutical company aimed at developing a HIV vaccine. He served as senior vice president of research and development until February 1, 2004, when both he and co-founder Donald P. Francis left after Vaxgen began to broaden its research portfolio.
They went on to create Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, a nonprofit organization, and continued the search of a HIV vaccine. The timing also coincided with an experimental HIV vaccine, AIDSVAX, which had failed its drug trials, showing no advantages to vaccinated persons.
Etienne De Harven, M.D., president of Rethinking Aids, said that on the other hand, “highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) did not give a ‘coup de grÃ¢ce’ to the alternative, chemical hypothesis initially formulated by Peter Duesberg.”
He explained that, “as AIDS patients get dangerously ill, they suffer most frequently from ‘opportunistic infections’ that have no direct, causal relationship with HIV.”
A recent find published in the UK medical journal The Lancet in 2006 by May, et. al., showed that under HAART, rapid clinical improvement is frequently observed while a decline in mortality is not.
“This is no proof of any possible role of antiretroviral drugs against HIV,” De Harven said.
He feels the visible improvement is “because HAART contains ‘anti-proteases’ molecules that are known to be highly effective against both Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia(PCP) and Candidiasis.” These are the two most common opportunistic infections in AIDS patients.
The success of the drugs that Berman referred to is no success at all, explained Henry Bauer, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry from Virgina Tech and author of the new book The Origin, Persistence, and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory.
He argues, like Duesberg, “that the antiretroviral drugs are killing rather than curing.” He supports this argument by pointing to a common cause of death in AIDS patients.
“In the 1980s, [AIDS patients] died soon after diagnosis because of opportunistic infections,” said Bauer. “Nowadays, people with AIDS tend to die from liver failure or heart failure, both of which are typical results of toxic medications.”
Or, as Duesberg put it: “It is AIDS by prescription.”
Dr. Mary Zavanelli, who teaches the UCSC course “Biology of AIDS,” believes that questioning the orthodoxy is necessary to the scientific process and that Duesberg’s ideas “were reasonable questions to ask with the amount of information we had 20 years ago.”
However, she defends the position that HIV causes AIDS.
“The direct correlation of how fast someone gets ill to the amount of HIV is one good piece of evidence in favor of the HIV hypothesis,” Zavanelli said.
On the other side, AIDS dissident John Lauritsen, who has authored numerous books on the subject, believes that Zavanelli’s claim is wrong. Calling the assertions “ignorant of what the ‘viral load’ tests do and do not do.”
Lauritsen cited a quote in which Kary Mullis, the inventor of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) said, “quantitative PCR is an oxymoron.”
PCR is a method scientists use for amplifying small pieces of DNA. In this case it is being used to quantify the amount of HIV RNA.
Many students are unaware of the debate on the HIV/AIDS theory. When 10 biology students on campus were asked if they had heard of the alternative HIV/AIDS hypothesis, all but one answered no. The overwhelming belief that HIV causes AIDS has persisted, and even in the academic arena, most are unaware of alternative claims.
Ryan Alanzalon, a third-year molecular cell and developmental biology major who recently served as a TA for Zavanelli’s class, sums up the pervading belief of students who have studied AIDS.
“HIV disables the immune system by destroying the all-too-important helper T cells, which are central to proper immune system function,” he said.
Allen attributes the lack of awareness to journalists who, “instead of disturbing the status quo about something as big and important as the HIV/AIDS fraud, they learn to put these kinds of stories in the ‘UFO bin’ and avoid them.” Consequently, if they don’t, they face becoming “unemployed and blacklisted,” something that Allen has dealt with personally over the years.
Lauritsen describes the persistent belief and lack of representation on Duesberg’s side of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis to be fueled by money. Researchers who believe HIV to be the cause of AIDS “are dupes of the public relations firms employed by the pharmaceutical companies,” he said.
“In 1987, he [Duesberg] had the scientific authority and the courage to express his considerable doubt,” De Harven said. “This was not agreeable to the ears of the ‘AIDS business’ that was developing at that time, with considerable financial interest from big-pharma.”
As a result, he said, “Peter Duesberg has been radically ostracized by the orthodox establishment of medical science, his research funding being terminated.”
Duesberg thinks HIV is a harmless passenger virus. “It is like a passenger on an airplane. It is there but it does not determine the departure time or how the plane is flown, the pilot does.”
Will the scientific community ever come to agreement with Duesberg’s claims?
“Time is the best ally I have,” said Duesberg. He reasoned that his claims were not accepted because too much time and money have already been invested. “HIV/AIDS researchers cling to HIV like passengers of the Titanic clinging to a lifeboat.”
If he is right, Lauritsen said, our conventional notion of HIV being the cause of AIDS could possibly be “ the greatest blunder and the greatest hoax in medical history — an epidemic of incompetence and an epidemic of lies.”