ISOLATED FACTS ABOUT HIV
A Response to Claims by AIDS Dissidents That HIV Doesn't Exist
By Edward King
UK National AIDS Manual Treatment Update
In late 1995 an advertisement appeared in The Pink Paper offering a
£ 1000 reward to "the first person finding one scientific paper
establishing actual isolation of HIV". The advert was placed by the
group Continuum, who do not accept that HIV is the cause of AIDS. In effect,
they were arguing that not only does HIV not cause AIDS, but it does not
exist at all.
Even the leading 'AIDS dissident' Professor Peter Duesberg has never
doubted HIV's existence, although he doesn't believe it is harmful. Continuum's
challenge is based on the view that the particles that are usually identified
as HIV are actually harmless natural particles commonly found in healthy
body tissues. Continuum told AIDS Treatment Update that they wanted to
see evidence of the isolation of HIV using a method "thoroughly discussed
at the Pasteur Institute in 1973", and laid down seven steps. AIDS
Treatment Update in turn put this challenge to Professor Robin Weiss, director
of research at the Institute of Cancer Research and an international authority
The first problem in answering the challenge is that, contrary to the
assertion of AIDS dissidents, there is no standard 'set of rules' for isolating
Professor Weiss said that while some of Continuum's proposed seven steps
(involving the propagation, purification and characterisation of the virus
from a tissue sample) can easily be demonstrated for HIV, he did not accept
that taken together the steps were appropriate requirements for proving
Contrary to the implication by Continuum, the Pasteur Institute did
not draw up such guidelines in 1973. When we asked Continuum to provide
the reference for a published account of the Pasteur Institute's guidelines,
they could only supply two papers which did describe research into retroviruses,
but did not themselves meet the seven steps Continuum was now requesting
Ironically, the authors of the papers cited by Continuum were also the
first to describe the isolation of HIV in 1983.
Professor Weiss singled out some of the unreasonable aspects of Continuum's
challenge. First, they wanted a single paper containing all seven steps.
Professor Weiss points out that some of the individual steps, such as analysis
of the viral particles' proteins and RNA to prove that they are unique,
are major tasks requiring a research paper to themselves. "But if
one put together three or four papers, all the data are there and have
been published for years".
Secondly, they wanted proof that infectious HIV particles can be purified
from a laboratory tissue culture using a technique called 'density gradient
ultracentrifugation', in which the specimen is spun vigorously. Professor
Weiss noted that "purification by this method is no problem, but HIV,
unlike the chicken retroviruses Peter Duesberg has studied, loses most
of its infectivity during this laboratory process".
Another step required proof that the particles said to be HIV cannot
be found in the tissues of HIV-negative people who have other illnesses
or live 'unhealthy lifestyles' such as injecting drug use, since this might
suggest that the particles may be part of the body's natural response to
stress or ill-health, rather than viral particles. Professor Weiss, who
has studied such naturally existing viruses, points out that HIV particles
look different. The relationship between infection with HIV (indicated
by the antibodies produced by the body in response) and risk of developing
AIDS is clear; among groups of drug users, haemophiliacs or gay men, it
is only those that are HIV-positive who are at risk of developing AIDS.
Two of Continuum's steps required absolutely pure isolates of HIV. First,
Continuum requested electron microscope pictures of viral particles that
exhibit HIV's shape, size and structure "and contain nothing else,
not even particles of other morphologies or dimensions". Professor
Weiss pointed out that many pictures of HIV have been published. However,
unlike bacteria that can reproduce themselves on a sterile dish, all viruses
are parasites that have to be grown inside living cells, and it is next
to impossible to remove all other debris from the culture. Other scientists
have highlighted the irrelevance of this insistence on purity if the HIV
particles themselves are clearly present; for example, it's like saying
that it is impossible to identify a German Shepherd dog by its unique appearance,
if it happens to be surrounded by a pack of poodles.
Another step wanted proof that pure particles could reproduce themselves
in a laboratory culture or animal. Again, the insistence that the experiment
must start with pure particles makes this unattainable. However, Professor
Weiss notes that he and other researchers routinely grow HIV isolates in
cultures of previously uninfected human white blood cells.
HIV's genetic material, on the other hand, can be purified. Gene cloning
techniques allow researchers to extract the viral genes found in HIV-infected
cells. When the complete set of genes is re-introduced into healthy human
cells in culture, the cells produce HIV particles.
It would clearly be unethical to inject these particles into humans
to see if they caused AIDS. However, experiments with purified SIV, the
monkey equivalent of HIV, have proved that the pure retrovirus causes the
selective loss of CD4 cells resulting in an AIDS-like disease. Moreover,
three American laboratory workers have been infected with purified HIV
in laboratory accidents. By 1993, all three had developed low CD4 counts
and one had been diagnosed with PCP, proving the link between HIV,immune
suppression and AIDS.
Does the failure to meet the seven steps mean that Continuum is right
and HIV cannot be isolated? "Far from it", says Professor Weiss.
"Today's molecular techniques for detecting and characterising viruses
make the state-of-the-art in 1973 look like an ox-cart compared to a motor
car as a means of transport. Continuum's challenge is simply not relevant
to the issues facing people at risk of AIDS."
In conclusion, Continuum's £ 1000 is unlikely to be claimed because
their challenge is inherently unreasonable and unwinnable for any retrovirus.
If they have money to burn when so many AIDS clinics and services are strapped
for cash, perhaps the honourable move would be to donate the sum to a good
cause such as the CRUSAID Hardship Fund or The Food Chain, where it would
benefit people for whom the existence of the virus is an undeniable reality.
AIDS Treatment Update is published monthly by NAM Publications, 16a
Clapham Common Southside, London SW4 7AB.Tel: 0171-627 3200. Fax: 0171-627
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For a reply by the researchers from Perth go here