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Dr. 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 Medicine, Science, Cancer Research, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 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 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 tuberculosis 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 at: http://www.duesberg.com

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.

Q: What originally inspired your interest in molecular biology?

Dr. Duesberg: 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.

Q: 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?

Dr. Duesberg: 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.

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

Dr. Duesberg: 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, since 1985, there are one million HIV-positive people living in the U.S. But only about 30,000 of them (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.

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

Dr. Duesberg: 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 one hundred percent correlation is an artifact of the AIDS definition, rather than a natural coincidence.

Q: 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 were some personal animosities against the power and the money that the early AIDS researchers got, and there are 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 are 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 of Caucasian Europeans don’t have that receptor. They have a genetic mutation where the receptor should be, and it’s missing a major chunk of it in the middle. Now those people who have that mutation, no matter what risky behavior they indulge in, they do not get HIV disease ... Then, of course, you can show clearly in the test tube that you can artificially make cells that have this receptor and they will become readily infected with the viruses that use this receptor. And if the cells don’t have the receptor then they don’t. That’s summarizing like hundreds and hundreds of papers that elegantly address this, so there’s no doubt that HIV causes AIDS. Duesberg may not like some of the HIV virologists, and their style and all, but it’s just so silly. And it’s sad, because they’ve created a movement that’s been very destructive. My understanding is that out in California some of these people are like Luddites. Some of the activists—not all of them, but some small percentage—have gotten this into their head, and have stormed research labs. They’ve gotten very angry and very crazy, and it’s complete rubbish. I have no doubt in my mind. I’m a hundred percent sure about this.”

How would you respond to Candace?

Dr. Duesberg: Take for example Candace’s “tidbit” of the “elegant science” of AIDS, that “a small percentage of Caucasian Europeans don't have that receptor” for HIV and “no matter what risky behavior they indulge in, they do not get HIV disease”—which means according to the CDC: no dementia, no diarrhea, no Kaposi sarcoma, no tuberculosis, no yeast infection, no lymphoma, no cervical cancer, no weight loss, no fevers, no pneumocystis pneumonia, etc. Elegant indeed!

Fortunately in the U.S., God must have distributed Candace Pert’s elegant HIV non-receptors otherwise: Here the majority of the heterosexual population has no HIV-receptors and therefore does not get AIDS! Instead, God must have distributed good HIV-receptors in the U.S. non-randomly to male homosexuals, junkies, and a few hemophiliacs and transfusion recipients, which make up over ninety-five percent of the American AIDS cases. Let's thank God that our mainstream heterosexuals—from our president to our leading HIV-AIDS researchers—are genetically protected against this “deadly” virus via defective HIV receptors, and are therefore AIDS-free—ever since this virus is said to have arrived in the U.S. over twenty years ago.

Q: Why do you think that so many researchers are resistant to examining the idea that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS?

Dr. Duesberg: Scientists are selected for instincts that help them to get funding, recognition, invitations to meetings, access to publications and awards. None of these are available to scientific minorities. On the contrary, minorities are excommunicated at many levels from the consenting majorities, even from personal contacts with mainstream colleagues. Those are strong incentives for scientists not to “examine” unpopular ideas.

Q: What do you think it will take to convince the scientific establishment that HIV is not the cause of AIDS?

Dr. Duesberg: It will take hypothesis-independent funding of research. If funding were available for non-HIV-AIDS hypotheses, AIDS would probably be solved very shortly on the basis of the drug or chemical AIDS hypothesis—as shown in our paper, “The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, chemotherapy, and malnutrition,” published in the Journal Biosciences of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 2003, with support from private sources. According to this hypothesis, AIDS is caused by recreational and antiviral drugs.

This hypothesis is already confirmed by exact correlations, and could be easily tested experimentally in animals and epidemiologically in the millions of human volunteers, who are HIV-free recreational drug addicts and develop AIDS-defining diseases under their old names. If confirmed, this hypothesis could readily solve AIDS by banning the inevitably toxic anti-HIV drugs and by warning the recreational drug users against the AIDS consequences of their drugs or lifestyle.

Q: Are there any new developments since the publication of your book Inventing the AIDS Virus that you think are important for people to know?

Dr. Duesberg: In principle, no. The HIV-AIDS hypothesis has recycled the same unproductive ideas and arguments for invisible or undetectable HIV, for toxic anti-HIV drugs, and excuses for failing vaccines in various formulations, for twenty-one years.

We have pointed this out in two papers since Inventing the AIDS Virus, which was first published in 1996. One of these papers, “The AIDS dilemma: drug diseases blamed on a passenger virus,” by Duesberg & Rasnick was published in Genetica in 1998. The other paper, “The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, anti-HIV drugs and malnutrition,” by Duesberg, Koehnlein & Rasnick, was published in the Journal of Bioscienes in 2003.

These papers analyze old and new paradoxes generated by the HIV hypothesis, and address new and old evidence for chemical AIDS, namely AIDS caused by recreational drugs, antiviral drugs, and malnutrition.

Q: What are some of the ways that you think a prevailing scientific paradigm can limit our medical understanding?

Dr. Duesberg: By becoming a monopoly able to control funding and publication, as is the case now with the HIV-AIDS monopoly and to a slightly lesser degree with the oncogene-cancer monopoly.

Q: What do you think should be done to help improve medical research in general?

Dr. Duesberg: Generate a free market for scientific ideas in which funding depends on logic, scientific principles, and useful results, rather than on approval, or better yet the blessings of “peer-review.” Since the “peers” represent the established scientific monopolies their self-interest demands “science” that confirms and extends the status quo—rather than innovation, which threatens their considerable scientific and commercial investments.

The only way to achieve innovation is to replace the so-called peer-review system by a system modeled after American courtroom juries, in which only jurors without any investments in the case on trial are judging the merits of a case.

The claim that only established “peers” have the knowledge to decide on AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc. is not consistent with their failures to explain or cure these diseases. And is not consistent even with the spirit of our constitution, where neither the law nor the health of the citizens should be left solely to the powers of the “experts.” The claims for exclusive authority of “scientific peers” are no more valid than those of their legal counterparts nor those of their predecessors who wrote prescriptions in Latin, or those of their theological counterparts who determine what’s moral or ethical via special connections with God.

Q: What do you think are the primary causes of aging?

Dr. Duesberg: I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. But, if I were to work on it, I would look at the three factors that generate the un-aged prototype: (1) The karyotype or species-specific chromosome combination; (2) The genes; and (3) The differential expression of thousands of genes or “epigenetic” controls that generate differentiated phenotypes. I would plan experiments which compare karyotypes, genes and gene expressions of un-aged prototypes with aged counterparts.

Q: What do you think are currently the best ways to slow down, or reverse the aging process and extend the human life span?

Dr. Duesberg: The answer would depend on the experiments proposed in my last answer. But it is already known from the experimental literature that the life-span can be much extended, by about a third, and the cancer-risk reduced by minimizing the metabolism and cell divisions by limiting the diet. So aging could probably be slowed down by minimizing the inevitably fallible processes that replicate chromosomes and genes, and maintain differentiated function by limiting metabolism via the diet.

Q: What are some of the new medical breakthroughs that you foresee coming along in the near future?

Dr. Duesberg: I am very skeptical—indeed I am scared—of a “new medical breakthrough” from the very same medical establishment, which prescribes inevitably cytocidal DNA chain-terminators to hundreds of thousands of healthy people solely because they have made antibodies against the non-cytocidal retrovirus HIV!

Q: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Duesberg: The currently prevailing cancer theory postulates that cancer is caused by four to seven gene mutations. However, despite over thirty years of efforts, it has not been possible to find one or a combination of mutant genes in cancers that are able to transform a normal cell to a cancer cell, or are able to cause cancer in an animal.

In view of this, I am now studying the chromosomal theory of cancer. This theory is based on the fact that the numbers or structures of chromosomes of all cancers are abnormal.

However, since the currently prevailing cancer orthodoxy holds that gene mutations cause cancer, I am again working on cancer without funding from any non-private, “peer-reviewed” agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute, despite over fourteen grant applications. 

David Jay Brown is the author of four volumes of interviews with leading-edge thinkers, Mavericks of the MindVoices from the EdgeConversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse, and Mavericks of Medicine. (Mavericks of Medicine will be published by Smart Publications as a book in late 2006.) He is also the author of two science fiction novels, Brainchild and Virus. David holds a master’s degree in psychobiology from New York University, and was responsible for the California-based research in two of British biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s bestselling books on unexplained phenomena in science: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and The Sense of Being Stared At. To find out more about David’s work visit his award-winning web site:www.mavericksofthemind.com