A Modern-Day Copernicus: Peter H. Duesberg

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), a mathematician and astronomer, questioned the long-held belief that the Earth sits at the center of the universe and the Sun and planets circle around it. Aristotle posited and Ptolemy (85–165) codified this geocentric (Earth-centered) system. But in his On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, published in 1543, Copernicus said that they had it backwards. He concluded that the Sun is at the center of the cosmos, and the Earth and other planets revolve around it. This book altered the direction in which scientific thought developed. Aristotle, for example, reckoned that the reason objects fall to earth is that they seek their natural place at the center of the universe. With the Earth displaced to a secondary role in a heliocentric (Sun-centered) system, a new explanation for this phenomenon was needed, which Isaac Newton provided a century-and-a-half later with his Law of Gravitation.

Peter H. Duesberg (b.1936) is a molecular biologist. He is Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Duesberg questions, on a submicroscopic scale, two tenets of biology. One is the germ theory of AIDS. He contends that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. The other is the gene mutation hypothesis of cancer. Duesberg claims that mutations in genes are not the cause of cancer.

Harvey Bialy has written a book about Duesberg titled Oncogenes, Aneuploidy, and AIDS: A Scientific Life & Times of Peter H. Duesberg (2004). Bialy is founding scientific editor of Nature Biotechnology, a molecular biologist, and a poet. He recounts Duesberg’s rise and fall in the world of mainstream science, beginning with the recognition he and co-worker Peter Vogt received in 1970 for biochemically defining the first retroviral oncogene, found in birds. (An oncogene is a gene, viral derived or not, associated with cancer.) Bialy portrays Duesberg as having "a furious intellect"; an "encyclopedic knowledge of a vast scientific literature, in several languages"; and "tenacity."

In Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (2006), William Vollman praises Copernicus for having the good sense to die shortly after the publication of his paradigm-altering work, thus avoiding the cruel punishment then accorded heretics.

So far, this has been Duesberg’s fate: Admired as a "wunderkind" in the 1970s, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) awarded him a long-term Outstanding Investigator Grant; he was a candidate for the Nobel Prize; the U.S. National Academy of Science, in 1985, invited him to join the academy, a high honor among scientists, especially for one then only 49 years old; and in 1986 he was awarded a Fogarty fellowship to spend a year at the NIH studying cancer genes. But in 1987 Duesberg ran afoul of the establishment. He published a paper in Cancer Research titled "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality," followed a year later by one in Science, "HIV is Not the Cause of AIDS." Thereafter, Duesberg was subjected to the punishment now accorded modern-day heretics. The NIH ceased giving him grants (the NIH and other federal and state funding sources have rejected his last 21 consecutive research grant applications), colleagues labeled him "irresponsible and pernicious" (David Baltimore) and his work "absolute and total nonsense" (Robert Gallo), and graduate students at Berkeley were advised not to study with Duesberg if they wanted to go on and have a successful career in biology. He was branded a "rebel," a "maverick," an "iconoclast," and by one writer, in an article in Science in 1988 titled "A Rebel Without a Cause of AIDS," a "gadfly." Blocked from receiving grants, he obtained private funds to maintain his laboratory at UC Berkeley, and he now spends part of each year doing research in Germany.

His principle work on HIV/AIDS is Inventing the AIDS Virus, published in 1996. In this book, and in other papers he has written on the subject, Duesberg systematically dismantles, piece by piece, the germ theory of AIDS. This theory/hypothesis has two parts: 1) HIV causes AIDS, and 2) HIV is sexually transmitted.

With regard to sexual transmission, only 1 in 1,000 unprotected sexual contacts transmit HIV. One in 275 U.S. citizens has antibodies to this virus. Therefore, an uninfected person could have up to 275,000 random unprotected sexual contacts without acquiring sexually transmitted HIV. Prostitutes do not get AIDS, unless they are drug addicts; and wives of HIV-positive hemophiliacs do not contract AIDS from their husbands. Proponents of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis ignore these facts. The dire heterosexual AIDS epidemic predicted to occur in the U.S., Canada, and Europe twenty years ago has not happened, and the disease remains confined to the original two main risk groups – gay men (66 percent of all AIDS cases) and intravenous drug users, male and female (32 percent). The other 2 percent are hemophiliacs and babies born to mothers who used intravenous drugs during pregnancy. The easiest way to acquire HIV sexually is through receptive anal intercourse.

Unlike other viruses, which cause diseases such as smallpox, mumps, and herpes, a retrovirus is like a hitchhiker going along for the ride. It enters a cell, mixes its genes up with those the cell possesses and aligns its fate with that of the cell. Retroviral genes make up an estimated 8 percent of the approximately 35,000 genes in the human genome. It is not in the retrovirus’ self-interest to destroy the cell it lives in. Its survival is contingent on the host cell staying healthy. But HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), a retrovirus, supposedly causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) by killing the T cell it infects. Without an adequate number of T cells immunodeficiency results, rendering a person susceptible to AIDS. As Duesberg points out, however, two important facts argue against this model: HIV infects, at most, only 1 in 500 T cells. And T cells infected with HIV placed in a test tube (in vitro) grow and thrive. The cells do not die. Instead, they manufacture large quantities of the virus, which providers use to detect antibodies to HIV in their patients’ blood. For these and a dozen other reasons, the germ theory of AIDS is wrong. HIV is a harmless passenger on the AIDS airplane, not its pilot.

Perhaps Duesberg’s final statement on HIV/AIDS will be “The Chemical Bases of the Various AIDS Epidemics: Recreational Drugs, Anti-viral Chemotherapy and Malnutrition,” published in 2003. Rebel he may be, as Science avers, but Duesberg is not without a cause for AIDS. He wrote this paper with Claus Koehnlein and David Rasnick. I heard Dr. Rasnick, also a Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley, present this paper at the 2003 meeting of the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. They hypothesize that AIDS is caused by three things, singly or in combination: 1) long-term, heavy-duty recreational drug use – cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, and nitrite inhalants; 2) antiretroviral drugs doctors prescribe to people who are HIV positive – DNA chain terminators, like AZT, and protease inhibitors; and 3) malnutrition and bad water, which is the cause of "AIDS" in Africa.

AIDS appeared in young gay men in the early 1980s following an explosion of recreational drug use that began twenty years earlier in the 1960s. Male homosexuals are the highest users of recreational drugs. AZT, given to people who are HIV-positive, first used in 1987, is another cause of AIDS. As Duesberg and coauthors show in this paper, a chemical (noninfectious) basis for AIDS is supported by a lot of important data. One fact is this, which government spokespersons and the media do not report: HIV-positive people treated with antiretroviral drugs have a four to five times higher annual mortality rate compared to HIV-positive people who refuse treatment with these drugs – 6.6–8.7 percent vs. 1.4 percent. Duesberg writes, "AIDS is stabilized, even cured, if patients stop using recreational drugs or AZT – regardless of the presence of HIV. The drug hypothesis predicts that AIDS is an entirely preventable and in part curable disease."

There are other, larger societal issues that resonate around AIDS. In AIDS: Virus or Drug Induced (1996), Duesberg writes:

The AIDS virus [HIV] also proved to be the politically correct cause of AIDS. No AIDS risk groups [e.g., gay men] could be blamed for being infected by a God-given egalitarian virus. A virus could reach all of us. Nobody would be ostracized since u2018We are all in this together.’ Not so with drugs. The consumption of illicit psychoactive drugs implies individual and social responsibilities that nobody wanted to face… The perceived danger of an AIDS virus decimating the general public also provided the scientific and moral arguments for quick and unreflective action and for the complete dismissal of the competing drug-AIDS hypothesis.

Pope Clement VII encouraged Copernicus to publish his work, and On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres is dedicated to his successor, Pope Paul III. The Catholic Church supported his research, but Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers denounced it. The Holy See accepted Copernicus’ heliocentric system as a hypothesis, one which made determining holy days, Easter in particular, easier. Galileo (1564–1642) subsequently mounted a "Copernicus Crusade" and proclaimed the hypothesis a fact, which the Church to censure him and place him under house arrest, an action it now regrets. It was appropriate, however, to treat Copernicus’ heliocentric system as a hypothesis, which has turned out not to be entirely true. We now know the sun is not stationary but rotates around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy with its planets in tow. Kary Mullis, who won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for inventing the polymerase chain reaction, now used to measure HIV "viral load," states in his book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field (1998), "Years from now, people will find our acceptance of the HIV theory of AIDS as silly as we find those who excommunicated Galileo."

While Duesberg continues to be vilified for his contrarian view of AIDS, investigators are increasingly willing to consider his equally contrarian view of cancer. Chapter Six of Bialy’s Oncogenes, Aneuploidy, and AIDS: A Scientific Life & Times of Peter H. Duesberg deals with this subject and is titled "The Phoenix Almost Rises." The media do not report his work on cancer so as not to "legitimize" him. (The New York Times has made no mention of it.) One exception is Scientific American. It published an article in its July 2003 issue titled "Untangling the Roots of Cancer" written by one of its senior writers. The article lists, in a timeline illustration, the 12 most important events in the evolution of cancer theory over the last 100 years. Number 10 in this list, occurring in 1999, is: "Peter Duesberg publishes detailed theory of how aneuploidy may be sufficient to cause cancer itself, even without mutations to any particular sets of genes."

Normal human cells have 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent. They are euploid (contain the correct number of chromosomes). Aneuploidy means the cell has an abnormal number and balance of chromosomes (strands of DNA consisting of many genes and other elements), either too many or too few. All solid tumor cancer cells have an abnormal number of chromosomes, usually ranging from 60 to 90. Colon cancer cells contain an average of 79 chromosomes. Cells that have an abnormal number of chromosomes can become cancerous by constantly altering their number and composition in succeeding generations of cells until at some point, perhaps decades later, one of these genetically unbalanced cells turns malignant. And since aneuploidy is inherently unstable, cancer cells continually spawn new cells with differing numbers and assortments of chromosomes and therefore a unique genetic makeup (karyotype). This enables the cancer to survive when threatened by chemotherapy and radiation because a subpopulation of its cells becomes genetically resistant to these challenges. The aneuploidy cancer hypothesis better explains why these treatments offer only a remission (while the surviving subpopulation regroups) and not a cure for cancer. This hypothesis shifts the focus to on how to prevent cancer rather than trying to find a cure.

Three important papers Duesberg has written on this subject, with private support, are "How Aneuploidy Affects Metabolic Control and Causes Cancer (1999)," with David Rasnick; "Aneuploidy, the Somatic Mutation that Makes Cancer a Species of Its Own (2000)," with Rasnick; and "Aneuploidy, the Primary Cause of the Multilateral Genomic Instability of Neoplastic and Preneoplastic Cells (2004)," with Alice Fabarius and Ruediger Hehlmann.

Postulating a viral etiology for most cancers, the "War on Cancer" launched by President Nixon in 1971 focused on viruses, with the prospect of a viral anti-cancer vaccine to come. When this line of investigation went nowhere, in the 1980s the virus-centered system of cancer morphed into a virus-centered view of AIDS; and the gene mutation hypothesis superseded viruses as the cause of cancer. Now Duesberg, in Copernican fashion, is replacing the genocentric (gene-centered) model of cancer with aneuploidy. This paradigm shift in understanding cancer, the second most common cause of death in our species, will have far-reaching consequences.

The incidence of cancer in the U.S. has more than doubled over the last century. Newer treatment modalities, such as chemotherapy and radiation, have provided little, if any, benefit in (long-term) survival rates. The aneuploidy-centered system of cancer explains why it has been so difficult to find a cure for cancer, and research dollars would be better invested seeking ways to prevent it. Studies on environmental triggers – carcinogens and nutritional factors – that foster aneuploidy need to be funded and done.

When Duesberg’s work on HIV/AIDS and cancer is finally recognized and accepted, it will cause a revolution in science. Over the last 50 years government-sponsored and industry-sponsored research programs have come to dominate scientific research. A totalitarian system now exists where only scientists that adhere to the prevailing orthodoxy can receive funds to conduct research. Not only will the government not fund studies on alternative hypotheses for AIDS and cancer, but this stricture applies to other areas of inquiry. All research on climate change must conform to the dogma of human-caused global warming, and studies on vaccines dare not criticize their safety or efficacy. No government grants will be awarded to anyone who wants to study radiation hormesis – and question the linear no-threshold hypothesis. Studies published that support the reigning dogma are riddled with conflicts of interest, manipulated statistics, and bias. Once the HIV-AIDS hypothesis is acknowledged to be false, a domino effect will impact other branches of science that government now controls. Academic leaders in the inner circle of the medical-industrial-government complex will be called to account. Industry will likely face lawsuits. And government agencies, particularly the NIH, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will have a lot to answer for. Duesberg’s work will do to biology and science in this century what Copernicus did to astronomy and science five centuries ago.

In an interview conducted by the Berkeley Science Review, Peter Duesberg was asked, "If you could live your career again, would you change anything?" His reply: "I would possibly be more diplomatic than I was, when I first discovered the many paradoxes of the virus-AIDS hypothesis and of the now-prevailing gene mutation hypothesis of cancer. But I would not be a scientist who ranks acceptance by the mainstream higher than scientific discovery. Since we all live only once I would rather be respected by the next generation for a lasting scientific contribution, than by the current one for work that is popular now but scientifically flawed."

For the 200,000 healthy, HIV-positive Americans who must take DNA chain terminators based on the belief that HIV causes AIDS, and the one out of every three Americans who will get cancer, one hopes that Peter Duesberg’s work will be recognized and accepted soon. More than 2,000 scientists, medical professionals, authors, and academics have now gone on record doubting the HIV/AID hypothesis. Their comments are catalogued here. People who read Harvey Bialy’s beautifully written book about Duesberg, especially scientists, will come away with a new view of oncogenes, aneuploidy, and AIDS.

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