A Conversation With Peter Duesberg,
Professor of Virology, University of California, Berkeley

(from the California Monthly, Journal of the University of California Alumni Association).

"It does not exist on the front pages of newspapers, and can be found in the scientific literature only after a careful search, but there is a countermovement in AIDS thinking, long present and continuing to grow. The countermovement opposes the standard view that a retrovirus, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The accepted account of how people with AIDS become ill is that HIV kills T-cells, the very basis of the immune system; this allows the introduction of any of 25 diseases into the defenseless body, which then succumbs.

"This explanation, however, incorporates a number of paradoxes. First, HIV never infects sufficient numbers of T-cells to destroy the immune system. Second, according to this view, disease results from the "AIDS virus" only after anti-viral immunity has been achieved--that is, only after antibodies to the virus can be detected. Third, disease strikes only about ten years after infection (the "latent period"). Fourth, people with AIDS succumb to different diseases depending on their risk group (Kaposi's sarcoma for homosexuals, pneumocystis pneumonia for IV drug users) or their country of origin (the pneumonia common in the United States and Europe is not seen among AIDS sufferers in Africa). Finally, if HIV acted like a conventional virus, it would by now have spread far beyond its original points of attack. The virus would be random in the population, as was predicted in 1983, when it was discovered; this, however, has not come to pass.

"The response of the dominant medical groups, private and public, has not been to seek other explanations for AIDS. Instead, billions of dollars have been given to research aimed at resolving the maze of paradoxes surrounding the 'virus-AIDS' hypothesis.

"But many scientists believe that other approaches must be used to explain and therefore deal with AIDS. One of the key figures in this countermovement is Peter Duesberg, a molecular biologist at Berkeley. A member of the National Academy of Science, one of the world's most respected retrovirologists, and a current beneficiary (one of only two on the Cal campus) of an Outstanding Investigator Grant from the National Cancer Institute, the 53-year-old Duesberg has been at Berkeley since 1964.

"Duesberg entered the AIDS debate in 1987, when he wrote "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality," in Cancer Research, which closed with an attack on the virus-AIDS hypothesis. In 1988, he debated the issue in the pages of Science magazine (HIV does Not Cause AIDS). Last year, he wrote "HIV Fails as the Cause of AIDS" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"He has just completed an article for publication in Research in Immunology, "AIDS: Non-infectious deficiencies acquired by drug consumption and other risk factors," which continues his assault on the virus-AIDS hypothesis and introduces, for the first time, his own proposal, the 'risk-AIDS' hypothesis. With this new hypothesis, he claims to have resolved many of the paradoxes in the standard account. It is the difference between these two accounts which forms the basis for this Q&A.