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Peter Duesberg

Challenging the Viral Theory of AIDS:
An Interview with Dr. Peter Duesberg

By David Jay Brown

Peter Duesberg, Ph.D. is a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley. He is a pioneer in retrovirus research, and he was the first scientist to isolate a cancer gene. More recently, Dr. Duesberg has gained recognition for his theory that abnormal chromosome numbers are the causes of cancer, which challenges the conventional mutation theory. However, he is probably best known for challenging the widely-held theory that HIV is the cause of AIDS. 
Dr. Duesberg earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Frankfurt in Germany in 1963. He isolated the first cancer gene through his work on retroviruses in 1970, and he mapped the genetic structure of these viruses. This, and his subsequent work in the same field, resulted in his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1986. He was also the recipient of a seven-year Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Institutes of Health, before he called the HIV-AIDS hypothesis into question.

Dr. Duesberg is the author of Inventing the AIDS Virus, and his articles challenging the HIV/AIDS hypothesis have appeared in scientific journals worldwide including The New England Journal of MedicineScienceCancer Researchthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Nature. On the basis of his experience with retroviruses, Dr. Duesberg concludes that it is impossible for HIV to be the cause of AIDS, and that AIDS is, in fact, a nonviral disease. He has instead proposed the hypothesis that the various American and European AIDS diseases are brought on by the long-term consumption of amyl nitrites or “poppers” and other recreational drugs, and/or by the use of the extremely toxic drug AZT, which is a chain-terminator of DNA synthesis that was originally developed for chemotherapy of cancer and is now prescribed to prevent or treat AIDS.  

Despite Dr. Duesberg’s impressive track record, and the fact that his ideas about about AIDS are truly compelling if one studies them carefully, he has found himself at direct odds with the medical establishment since he began talking about his controversial AIDS hypothesis. Many AIDS researchers and drug companies have reacted hostilely to Dr. Duesberg’s hypothesis. For example, when I interviewed neuroscientist and AIDS researcher Candace Pert from Georgetown University, and I asked her what she thought about the scientists that don’t think that the HIV virus is responsible for causing AIDS, she replied, “These people are nuts.” 

However, some other scientists think differently and strongly respect Dr. Duesberg’s ideas-including Nobel laureates in chemistry Kary Mullis and Walter Gilbert. Duesberg, Mullis, and Gilbert all point out that there is no direct experimental evidence that HIV causes AIDS, and that there are numerous problems with the HIV-AIDS theory. For example, not everyone infected with HIV gets AIDS, and not everyone with AIDS symptoms is infected with HIV. In fact, the symptoms of AIDS vary from continent to continent, and a medical diagnosis of AIDS is often made simply by testing positive for HIV antibodies in the presence of a disease such as tuberculoses or cancer. However, instead of engaging in scientific debate, according to Dr. Duesberg, the only response from the scientific establishment has been to cut off funding to further test his hypothesis. 

To find out more about Dr. Duesberg’s work, see Harvey Bialy’s biography Oncogenes Aneuploidy and AIDS: The Scientific Life & Times of Peter H. Duesberg (North Atlantic books, Berkeley CA, 2004), or visit Dr. Duesberg’s Web site

I interviewed Dr. Duesberg in December of 2005. We spoke about why he thinks that it’s a mistake to assume that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS, why so many researchers are resistant to examining the idea that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS, and what he thinks the real cause of AIDS might be.

David: What originally inspired your interest in molecular biology?

Peter: The idea that there are cancer viruses, and thus ways to understand cancer and perhaps prevent or cure it by vaccines, inspired me forty years ago. I was young enough to ignore or better not even know objections.

David: If you could just briefly summarize-what are some of the primary reasons why you think that it’s a mistake to assume that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS?

Peter: Here are four out of many more “primary reasons”:

First, AIDS is not infectious. For example, between 1981 and 2004, 930,000 American AIDS patients had been treated by doctors or health care workers. But, despite the absence of an anti-AIDS vaccine, there is not a single case report in the peer-reviewed literature of a doctor or health care worker, who has ever contracted AIDS (rather than just HIV) from any one of these 930,000 patients in now twenty-five years.  Likewise, not one of the thousands of HIV-AIDS researchers has ever contracted AIDS from HIV, nor is there an AIDS epidemic among prostitutes anywhere in the world.

Second, like all other viruses, HIV induces anti-viral immunity, which is the basis of the HIV/AIDS test.  But, unlike any conventional viral epidemic or individual disease, AIDS is not self-limiting by anti-viral immunity and thus not likely to be caused by a virus.

Third, unlike all other viral epidemics, AIDS in the U.S. and Europe is highly nonrandom: A third of all patients are intravenous drug users and about two-thirds are male homosexuals, who have used nitrite inhalants, amphetamines, cocaine and other aphrodisiac and psychoactive drugs for years before they develop any one or more of the twenty-six different AIDS-defining diseases. In addition, most HIV-antibody-positive people are now prescribed inevitably toxic DNA chain-terminators as anti-HIV drugs.  But these terminators are AIDS by prescription, because they were designed to kill cells (for chemotherapy) and are thus also immunotoxic. Thus the AIDS epidemic does not spread randomly like a conventional viral epidemic and coincides with toxic drug use.

Fourth, there is no HIV in AIDS patients.  Instead, only antibody against HIV or traces of HIV nucleic acid can be found in typical AIDS patients.  But, conventional pathogenic viruses are abundant and not (yet) neutralized by antibodies when they cause diseases.

David: Can you talk a little about why you think that recreational drug use is the primary cause of AIDS among gay men?

Peter: There is both correlative and functional evidence in the AIDS literature that nitrite inhalants coincide with Kaposi sarcoma and other AIDS diseases among homosexual users, and that nitrites are cytotoxic, immunotoxic and Kaposi-sarcomagenic.  It is also known for decades that the long-term use of amphetamines and cocaine cause weight loss, immunodeficiency, dementia and other AIDS-defining diseases. It is the long-term use of such recreational drugs alone or in combination with anti-HIV drugs that American and European AIDS patients have in common.

By contrast, millions of HIV-antibody-positive people from without these risk groups are AIDS-free. For example, one million HIV-positives live in the US since 1985, but only about 30,000 of those (three percent) have any one of the twenty-six AIDS-diseases per year-namely exactly the minority of them that uses recreational and anti-HIV drugs.

David: Why do you think that there is such a high correlation between HIV and AIDS?

Peter: The correlation is a hundred percent because AIDS is defined by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and thus for the world (!), as one or more of twenty-six previously known diseases, if they occur in the presence of antibody against HIV.  For example, all tuberculosis patients, who have antibodies against HIV are called AIDS patients. By contrast, HIV-free tuberculosis patients are still tuberculosis patients. Thus the hundred percent correlation is an artifact of the AIDS definition, rather than a natural coincidence.

David: When I interviewed neuroscience and AIDS researcher Candace Pert I said to her that, “A few scientists that I’ve spoken with told me that they don’t think that the HIV virus is responsible for causing AIDS.”

When I asked her what she thought about this idea she said, “…These people are nuts. The evidence is clear, and it’s the most elegant scientific story. There was a movement against HIV research, and the main champion was Peter Duesberg. There was some personal animosities against the power and the money that the early AIDS researchers got, and there’s a lot of political aspects to this. But beyond a shadow of a doubt-and I’m speaking as somebody who studies data in the lab-there is just no doubt about the fact that HIV is the cause of AIDS. There’s just so much elegant science behind it. Just let me site one little tidbit that tells you how clean the whole thing is. There’s two primary receptors that the AIDS virus uses to enter and infect cells. One of them…is called CCR-5. It turns out that a small percentage Caucasian Europeans don’t have that receptor. They have a genetic mutation where the receptor should be, and it’s missing a major

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