Tests Discredit Chimp Theory on HIV

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Nigel Hawkes, The Times (London), September 12, 2000

© 2000 Times Newspapers Limited

NEW tests have exploded the theory that the Aids epidemic was started by a contaminated polio vaccine in Africa.

The theory, advanced by the British author Edward Hooper in his book The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and Aids, is that the Aids virus crossed from chimpanzee to man as a result of efforts in the 1950s to control polio in Africa. He claims that the polio vaccine was contaminated by being cultured on cells from chimpanzee kidneys.

At the Royal Society in London yesterday results of tests on a remaining sample of the polio vaccine were made public. They show no trace of HIV-1 or of simian immunodeficiency virus, the monkey equivalent. Dr Claudio Basilico, of New York University Medical Centre, who co-ordinated the tests at three laboratories, said samples showed no traces of chimpanzee tissue.

"There is nothing in the results from these tests to support the theory that HIV entered the human population during the late 1950s' polio virus clinical trials in Africa," he said. "The different tests performed by the three independent laboratories did not find any evidence of SIV or HIV in the samples nor did they find chimpanzee DNA."

Dr Hilary Kaprowski and Dr Stanley Plotkin, the two scientists from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia who developed the polio vaccines, have long insisted that no chimpanzee tissue was used. The tests vindicate them.

Dr Plotkin said that the tests had failed to reveal Mr Hooper's "smoking gun ". He said: "In fact there is no gun, no bullets, no shooter, no motive, only smoke created by Mr Hooper himself...The controversy has no foundation."

Mr Hooper refused to accept that his theory was in ruins. There had been various batches of vaccine made at different laboratories, he said, and the fact that tests on the only remaining sample of one of them had been negative did not invalidate his theory.