By Anthony Liversidge

Spin Feb. 1988

Dr. Robert Gallo, the codiscoverer of HIV, the "AIDS virus," finally responds to Dr. Peter Duesberg's charges that we are fighting the wrong cause of AIDS.

AIDS may be the most perplexing disease science has ever faced, and inevitably questions will go unanswered. But they should never go unasked. By rejecting intelligent, compelling theories, we are rejecting progress, obviously an inexcusable approach to a disease we call "The Nation's Number-One Health Priority."

Last month, SPIN published an exclusive interview with Dr. Peter Duesberg, a molecular biologist who has taken on the entire medical establishment by challenging the prevailing theory that the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS. In a 16-page dissertation, which appeared in the March 1 issue of Cancer Research, Duesberg not only concluded that HIV cannot cause AIDS, but also that retroviruses do not cause leukemia or any other cancers in humans. Each of these generally accepted theories that are disputed by Duesberg were developed by the famed NIH researcher Dr. Robert Gallo, who won two Albert Lasker Awards for his discovery of HTLV-I and HTLV-III (HIV) in 1982 and 1986. Gallo, once described by Time magazine as "brash, competitive, and vain," has persistently refused to formally refute Duesberg's theory, saying, "This virus caused AIDS. There is no debate." But within the scientific community, even among Gallo's collegues, there is growing concern that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS. An open debate about it is far more important than Gallo, who has a lot riding on HIV research, seems willing to admit and anxious to dismiss.

The nucleus of Duesberg's argument is this: For a parasite to be pathogenic - disease causing - it has to meet three criteria. One: It must be biologically active. Two: It has to affect or intoxicate more cells of a host, an animal, or a human, than the host can spare or regenerate. Three: The host has to accept the pathogen; it cannot be immune to it.

The HIV virus, Duesberg says, does not meet one of those criteria. It is never active, and the virus is hardly detectable, even in those who are dying of AIDS. It is very difficult to isolate the virus itself, and the only sign of it is detection of its antibody, which according to Duesberg, is like a vaccination, an indication of a past disease, not a future one. Several studies have shown that the HIV virus can be isolated in only 50 percent of all AIDS patients, the viral content is either nonexistent or so low that Duesberg contends it cannot be destructive. In up to 20 percent of all AIDS patients, the virus cannot be detected in any form: they do not test HIV positive.

In his thesis, Duesberg points to a set of three scientific rules known as Koch's Postulates, that re used to determine whether a particular micro-organism is the cause of a disease. HIV, Duesberg says, only partially fulfills one of them, and fails to fulfill the other two.

Duesberg has been studying retroviruses for twenty years. He codiscovered the first cancer-causing genes. It's been almost a year since he published his theory in Cancer Research, and not one scientist has yet refuted it.

Gallo has refused to answer questions about the HIV controversy, even declining to make appearances unless guaranteed that no questions will be asked regarding Duesberg and his critique of HIV. For the first time, in this exclusive interview, however Gallo responds.

What do you think of Peter Duesberg's thesis that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS? Should one keep an open mind on the question?

No, I don't think anybody needs to keep an open mind on that. It is silly, OK?

Is there any flaw in his logic that is easy for you to point out?

No. He's a good fellow. It's a useless interchange. Really totally useless. He's an organic chemist. I would never argue with him about the electron spin resonance in a molecule of organic compound.

Peter doesn't understand the biology of what he is talking about. Period. Simple as that. He doesn't know what it means to prove something causes something or to demonstrate it. As anybody in the business knows who works in it, there is more evidence that this virus causes AIDS than you have with the vast majority of diseases you long ago have accepted. There's no story. I am not going to say any more. I am not going to be drawn into nonsense.

But isn't Cancer Research, where Peter Duesberg published his survey of the evidence in March 1987, a respected journal?

Yeah. He is a legitimate molecular biologist. He can publish reviews and opinions if he wants to. But I don't think anyone at Cancer Research would buy that that virus doesn't cause the disease if they know anything about AIDS. I'am on the editorial board. Or at least I was for many years until a few years ago. It [Duesberg's survey] is irrelevant. Any scientist can publish a hypothesis on something silly. The article is damaging mostly to Peter.

Well, is someone going to reply to it?

You can reply to it if you wish. I am certainly not going to! It's ludicrous. If I saw a man get hit by a truck and run over and you asked, "Did you get the proof? Did the truck do it?" OK, it comes to something like that. Silly.

But Duesberg points out that only very low levels of viral RNA have been detected in AIDS antibody-positive blood samples, and that sick AIDS patients have no measurable amount of virus in the blood?

Low levels? He does not know what he is talking about. He is quoting our data that the virus doesn't infect a number of cells. Cock and horse shit. Baloney. He misinterprets the experiments we published. The virus doesn't infect only a small number of cells. It infects a lot of cells. It is only expressed at one time in a small number of cells. [This is] so silly it defies belief. It's a waste of time. You can keep it going in the popular press and such nonsense can go on forever. Doesn't make any sense to respond to it. No thinking scientist involved in the problem knows anything else but that there is one single cause of AIDS, period. I said it in 1983 almost, early 1984, publicly in the spring, and there is no need to say it again. The proof is there.

Furthermore, hasn't Duesberg ever understood indirect mechanisms in cell killing? There are immune responses to the virus that destroy the proliferation of the T cell. That's crystal clear now. It is not just a matter of the virus going in and killing the cell directly. Does that take a genius?

Are you going to publish anything in the near future that will act as an additional weight of evidence that the HIV virus is truly the cause?

There is no need for additional evidence. Let me explain something to you. Robert Koch never satisfied his own postulates [Koch's postulates, the criteria that need to be satisfied before a microorganism is counted as the cause of a disease]. It is almost impossible to do so completely in medicine. He found the cause of TB and of cholera without fulfilling his own postulates in either case. But everyone knows that caused the disease. Now we have come close to Koch's Postulates because of accidents, the blood transfusions that took place before the blood test existed. Every single blood donor and every single recipient of blood who wasn't in a risk group who got AIDS, we blindly tested. That's published a long time ago. With 28 people, blood was sent to us blind, we got AIDS for no known risk groups. Every one of them had the virus and the majority of them had no other detectable pathogen known to man. More importantly, when you checked the blood each one got, at least one of the donors was positive in the donor group at a time when there was hardly any virus in America. That's back in 1983 or 1982.

On top of that, the vast majority of the people who donated the blood are now dead with AIDS. That's just one small point. You don't have the luxury with most other organisms. But I wouldn't need that to say this virus is the cause of AIDS. In every country in the world where this has been studied, and it now includes the majority, there was no AIDS until this virus arrived. Then there is AIDS two years later.

How about the fact that there is no explanation yet of the mechanism by which the virus becomes active after a long period of dormancy - three to five years or longer?

Peter Duesberg doesn't understand latency. He works with chicken viruses which cause cancer in two weeks. Do you think you get cancer in two weeks in nature? You know as a layperson when you some cigarettes you don't get cancer the next day. With HTLV-I, the 1978 leukemia virus we discovered, you don't get cancer for 20 years. He doesn't understand latency. It takes time for retroviruses in nature to cause disease.

Arguing with Peter is like arguing with me. The same level. Peter is an organic chemist. He is an excellent molecular biologist and excellent organic chemist. But he knows less than most people about the biology of the system - medicine and about epidemiology.

How do you explain the ten percent of sick AIDS patients who don't have antibodies to the virus, and the study that found that the virus cannot be isolated from 50 percent of them?

They have the virus. In isolation you don't have it. Look, you read in the paper about a person infected in a lab outside NIH. That person has the opposite - he had antibody and no virus… until the tenth attempt at culture. Then they isolated the virus three times in a row by slightly altering conditions. Because the virus tropism was more to macrophage than to the target T4 lymphocyte.

You don't have antibodies in people till a long time after disease occurs. Look, they have monkey models right now for Christ's sake. So-called SIV retrovirus produces AIDS in monkeys and about 25 percent of the monkeys don't give antibodies at all.

This is just so trite that it is a waste of my goddamn time. I'm busy. Peter can do a lot of disservice. He has now indicated to people that they can go out and fuck around and get infected by this virus and not worry. That's the part where I am mad at Peter. Peter is joking about very serious matters that are going to alter some people's behaviour. Even if it is only one percent of the population who think they can go around doing what they want. The whole world has ignored Duesberg, including scientists who want to come into the field afresh flashing their Nobel prizes, right? No one challenges the cause of the disease! I mean, what an I going to say? He really and truthfully is a close friend of mine, would you believe it?

In his acknowledgement to his Cancer Research article, Duesberg thanks you for your discussions during the preparation. You failed to persuade him, it seems.

Oh, I never tried to persuade Peter. I never sent him anything. Discussions, I mean, you know, it's like you laugh at him. What are you going to say to him? I don't get into any discussions; you can't. I mean, do you know him? There's the problem. You have got to know him. It's hard to explain to somebody because it sounds like you don't want to talk bad about your colleagues and you're friends. Peter is a wonderful person in many respects and he is brilliant in some respects, but he has certain ways of behaving different from most people. If you knew him you would know what I mean. I am not going to say any more.

But the picture he presents, that the virus doesn't appear in substantial amounts at any stage…?

Look, it's utter nonsense, destructive nonsense, it can boomerang not only in his face, but in the lives of people. Dangerous nonsense. The evidence is overwhelming that this is the cause of the disease. We have more evidence that this virus causes AIDS than we have for virtually any other disease known to man, save that which we have prevented with a vaccine. Hit by a truck is the analogy I like to use.

No country escapes this disease once this virus is introduced. No country has AIDS that doesn't have the virus and vice versa. That's one of Koch's postulates, of course. Another is that we have to relate the animal with the disease; well we not only have the animal with the related virus almost the same in a monkey, causing AIDS, but you have this virus causing disease by accident through inoculation into people through the blood transfusions in the old days before our blood tests came along. What has our blood test done for the blood supply? Doesn't that tell you something? It has taken away blood transfusions for AIDS all over the world. Jesus Christ, whaddaya want?

Duesberg believes the simian [monkey] model for AIDS is not satisfactory - are you saying he is out of date?

No, you have to know the man. I don't know how to make it clear without sounding like a son of a bitch. Peter is a funny guy. You'll have to get to know him. Once you know him you'll know what I mean.

Much is at stake for many scientists, including yourself, in terms of prestige and funding, which are tied to the accepted theory. Is there any scientist in the field who wouldn't be accused of having an ax to grind? Who can speak from the sideline?

There's no ax to grind. The whole world… everyone is working on the problem of this virus causing AIDS. There is nobody that doesn't work on this virus causing AIDS. Nobody! Every virologist on earth will tell you the same thing. This is the cause of AIDS. I don't know a single person that debates that. There is always somebody that can pull up to make some trouble! I mean the virus is created in my lab. Or even though we predicted that a virus like this couldn't cause it, OK, well, it has caused it, but maybe the French found it first. I mean, it is one goddamn event after another. It's like a no-win situation. Everyone knows this is the cause of AIDS. Except maybe two people. There is no debate. Call 5,000 scientists and ask. Anyone who reads and understands infectious diseases, virology, and cancer. Or any aspect of it.

So you don't subscribe to the idea of any cofactor at all that, in combination with HIV, causes AIDS?

HIV would cause AIDS in Clark Kent, given the right dose and the right strain of the virus. Given the right dose and right route of administration and the right time in someone's life. Alone in and of itself. No doubt in mind.

However, that doesn't mean cofactors can't make things more likely. The biggest cofactor is the virus itself - the dose - that's a chance. The dose you get is critical like in all biology. People don't seem to let that sink into their heads. Dose is important. One man's dose is not another man's dose.

Route of infection is also important. Low dose, infection by some routes and you are going to ward off infection. But walloping dose, intravenously, it is unlikely you can escape the devastating effects of the virus.

The next cofactor is variants. One causes the disease, the others may not. We know that from animal models and related retroviruses. Now having said that, how much more efficient do you want than almost 50 percent already? How many agents that cause disease have that rate? How many people get TB that are infected with the organism?

But Duesberg points out that there is so little virus found in the blood, far fewer cells are infected in two days that the blood normally regenerates.

That's nonsense. He knows the total number of infected people now. But the total number of infected people in time - it has a long latency. Know what I mean?

Yes, but these low titers [measures of the virus] he is talking about…

What low titers? That's the low number of cells that express the virus at any one time, not the number of cells that contain viral genomes. And the virus moves from cell to cell so that it may be in 0.1, one or two percent of the T4 cells at one time, but then it kills those cells and moves to another one or two percent. And the point is that it also works by indirect mechanisms. Suppressor proteins block T cell proliferation. You know when you deplete a population by a virus, it is not always a matter of direct virus infects cells and kills cells. That's only a small part of the pathogenesis of this virus. It also kills people by going to the brain. We showed that in 1984. Four years ago we demonstrated that.

So your basic theoretical framework is quite different from his, in fact?

The difference in my theoretical framework is that I understand biology and something of medicine and Peter doesn't understand either and that's a fact.

He has said that he wouldn't be unwilling to be injected by the virus in otherwise uncontaminated solution. Would you feel he was committing suicide?

I have no doubt he would be committing suicide with pathogenic strains of the virus, not the attenuated lab strains. You already have that evidence. Kids who get the virus from their mothers die rapidly. The rate is such that a good 40 to 50 percent die with this virus fast. No virus that I know of, save rabies and smallpox, has any greater efficiency. Do you know any?

Are you positive for the TB test? Most people are. The majority of the human population ten years ago was positive for TB. That means they got infected. How many got clinical TB? Are the majority of Americans running around with clinical TB?

You mean that they create immunity?

That's the whole point. A great number of them don't get the disease, right? Or it becomes a very walled-off little lesion that you see by a little pin on an X-ray, right? The same happens with the virus but this virus is far, far more efficient than TB. Peter doesn't challenge the cause of TB. It's just ridiculous. No microorganism has one hundred percent efficiency. Almost none. A few do. You know what is going to be one of them? Probably the AIDS virus.

You don't believe the virus can be there and not cause AIDS in the end, do you? If it is there in enough concentration and replicating in an individual, I believe every individual with a pathogenic strain will die with this virus. But fortunately not all strains are equally pathogenic. We know that from lab studies.

Does that explain the study that Duesberg points to, of remote Indians in Venezuela who carry antibodies to the virus, but have no signs of AIDS?

They don't have virus, my dear. No. He doesn't know Venezuela from Shanghai. That study was done by people at a time when they didn't know how to do the assays well. No one has confirmed it. He is just taking what he wants out of the literature. He doesn't understand the nature of the people being confirmed or who the people were, or what the assays' quality was and what they supposedly demonstrated. They have a related cross reaction. The don't have the virus. No one has isolated the virus from Amazon Indians. OK?

But still we don't actually know how the virus supposedly works, do we?

We know a lot how the virus works. We don't know everything. We know an awful lot more about how this virus works than we know about the vast majority of all microorganisms today, OK, that have been studied for the last 50 to one hundred years.

Cancer Research is a respected journal, the top in the field, and you have been on its editorial board. How do you explain the fact they published an article you feel is so riddled with flaws?

I have no idea. Talk to them. It's their problem. No one pays any attention to it, OK? You can publish any hypothesis you want. It's their problem. They chose to do it. It hasn't had any effect except at the New York Native. You're maybe the third person who was brought it up to me. You think if there was any legitimacy to that there wouldn't be scientists making an outcry all over the world? I am a passionate person. I refute something if I think it worth refuting. But truly the guy is my friend. If forced to, no problem, easy, simple, I could refute it point by point. If it took off and had to be done, I would do it. But the scientific community thinks it is a joke.

Someone in Israel said, "Why not lay waste to it?" but I said, "Why? Peter is Peter." He has been doing it in a lot of fields. Not the first time or the second.

He's an original thinker?

Original is right!

The relationship between Gallo and Duesberg has not always been this strained. In June 1984, when Gallo introduced Duesberg at a university in Germany, he called Duesberg's work "brilliant and original," and called him a man of "extraordinary energy, unusual honesty, with an enormous sense of humor, and a rare critical sense which often makes us look twice, then a third time, at a conclusion many of us believed to be foregone."

"He used to think very highly of me," Duesberg says today, laughing, "until I criticized his science. You would think I was insulting his mother or something, the way he reacted. I must say, of all the scientists I've known, Gallo's reactions are the most unscientific."

Duesberg is eager to debate Gallo point by point regarding HIV. We asked him for a response to Gallo's statements in this interview.

Gallo's standard assertion is that the bulk of the scientific community has ignored Duesberg's work, and that his theory, therefor, must be invalid. "On the contrary," says Duesberg. "First of all, I've received many letters from leading scientists, and not one of them is negative. But the majority doesn't rule in science; there is no democracy. And many great scientists stood alone at first. They called Galileo and Einstein absurd too, didn't they?"

The HIV hypothesis is so deeply rooted that today only seven percent of all reported AIDS cases are even tested for the virus. The rest are simply assumed to have the virus. "Even when they test them and they come up negative," Duesberg says, "the CDC records them as AIDS cases. This is beyond the realm of conservative science. What are they going by, intuition?"

Gallo's comparing SIV and disease in monkeys to HIV and disease in man, is comparing apples and oranges, says Duesberg. "The so-called monkey viruses that presumably cause the disease under very orthodox conditions, which include some of the symptoms of AIDS, but only when you get a very high titer [measure of viral content] in the animals. Viruses only cause a problem when they reach a high titer and the immune system doesn't handle them well. That is not comparable to the human AIDS situation where we talk about a disease that follows an infection of five year ago, and occurs at a time when the virus is no longer active. There is no animal model for such a situation."

Duesberg agrees with Gallo's statement that viruses are seldom one hundred percent efficient, saying, "One hundred percent efficiency is actually suicidal for the microbe; it would wipe out its host. So it has to be less efficient than one hundred percent, but with HIV, the question is, is it efficient at all?"

In response to Gallo's claim that "the virus infects a number of cells, but is only expressed at any one time in a small number of cells," Duesberg says, "That is a contradictory statement. The only type of infection that could be relevant to a disease, is a so-called active infection, where the virus is expressed. A so-called latent infection, where the virus is in the cell but doesn't do anything, could not be considered as a contributing factor of a disease. With HIV, virus is found in less than one in ten thousand cells, which is not enough to cause disease."

Gallo says, "Every individual with a pathogenic strain will die with this virus, but fortunately not all strains are equally pathogenic." "It's a great idea," says Duesberg, "but again, without any support of facts. I have not seen published anywhere that distinction between pathogenic and non pathogenic AIDS strains. When he isolates virus from an AIDS patient, he calls it pathogenic."

Shortly after Gallo was interviewed, SPIN learned that White House official Jim Warner of the Office of Policy Development summoned both Duesberg and Gallo to a meeting at the White House on January 19 to present their conflicting data for analysis. "I haven't reached any conclusions yet, " Warner told SPIN, "but I'm very interested in Duesberg's theory. When I wrote a memorandum on this, I quoted Rene Descartes who said, 'At least once in your life, insofar as it is possible, you should doubt all things.' Surely for the scientist, you should be in doubt until the evidence cannot be denied." *

Go here  for a second interview.