By Michelle Locke

Associated Press 18 March 1999

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Researcher Peter Duesberg has become a scientific outcast because of his unorthodox AIDS theories.

But he's still in business thanks to a fund-raising approach as unconventional as his beliefs.

Duesberg, who maintains that AIDS is not caused by the human immunodeficiency virus but by illegal drugs and the AIDS medication AZT, has been raising money from private sources for some years, living from check to check.

But his fund-raising took on added urgency last November when he feared he was about to lose his lab at the University of California at Berkeley for lack of money.

Friends of Duesberg sprang into action, soliciting donations by way of the Internet and an ad in the alumni magazine. The ad brought in a stream of small contributions, which along with $200,000 in foundation money and some other big individual donations amounted to $325,000, enough to eke out another year of operations.

Duesberg is grateful for the kindness of friends and strangers but said it's a hard way to make a living.

"You also begin to see how easy it is if you just conform,'' he said.

Twelve years ago, Duesberg filled out grant applications and the government sent him checks.

Back then, Duesberg was a member of the elite National Academy of Sciences, winner of a 1985 Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health and a leading authority on retroviruses, a family that includes the AIDS virus.

But after he published his HIV theory, his reputation tanked. The mainstream AIDS community has rebuffed his theories, saying it is clear that HIV does cause AIDS and that arguing otherwise dangerously undercuts the safe-sex message.

"Whatever inroads we have made to help people to practice safer sex or to exchange needles -- that all goes out the window,'' said David Evans of Project Inform, an advocacy group in San Francisco.

Since 1987, Duesberg has had 20 grant applications turned down. A spokesman for the NIH declined to comment.

As a tenured professor of molecular and cell biology, Duesberg still has his salary and position at Berkeley. But without grant money, he cannot operate a lab, which is crucial to continuing his research.

The private donations can't overcome another problem: no students.

Duesberg said students visit early in the semester and seem interested. But after a few weeks, they fade away. "They're told by the graduate advisers and by their peers, they may not be able to get a job, I may not be able to pay them, and it would be bad for their reputations,'' he said.

Stuart Lynn, head of Duesberg's division, said the Berkeley community hasn't ostracized Duesberg. "Everybody kind of looks at him an amused sort of way,'' Lynn said. "Berkeley has a lot more radical people than Peter.''

Duesberg said his lab and money problems reflect his one-man battle with scientists and drug companies who, he maintains, have invested too much in the HIV-AIDS connection to admit to an alternative theory.

"Most people don't realize how un-free we are to do science in America,'' he said. "They can afford to give millions, but they cannot afford to give me $100,000 or $200,000 to prove them wrong.'' *