Tests Fail to Link AIDS Spread, Polio Vaccine

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AIDS:Tests Fail to Link AIDS Spread, Polio Vaccine

Facts on File World News Digest, September 11, 2000

© 2000 Facts on File, Inc.

Claudio Basilico of the New York University School of Medicine September 11 released the results of a study that had failed to link the 1950s distribution of a polio vaccine in Africa to the beginning of the spread of AIDS. The announcement was made at the Royal Society, a London research organization. The link had been suggested most recently by a 1999 book by British journalist Edward Hooper, entitled The River, which posited that the vaccine had been cultivated using tissue from chimpanzees, the animal in which many scientists believed the AIDS virus had originated.

A 1992 article in Rolling Stone magazine had also raised the possibility of a connection between the vaccine and AIDS. At that time, Wistar Institute, the research center at the University of Pennsylvania where the vaccine had been developed, had appointed Basilico to investigate the issue. No testing had been done in 1992, but public pressure after the publication of Hooper's book prompted Wistar to provide samples of the vaccine in February. The institute and scientists who had worked on the vaccine had denied that any chimpanzee tissue had been used to make the vaccine.

The samples were sent to three separate laboratories: Roche Molecular Systems in Pleasanton, California; Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany; and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. They were tested for the presence of HIV, the virus that caused AIDS in humans, and SIV, which caused the simian variant of AIDS. No evidence of either virus was found by any of the laboratories.

The samples were also tested to identify which species of primate had been used to culture the vaccine. Scientists found only the DNA of Asian macaque monkeys, which were not thought to have carried any variant of the AIDS virus.

The most widely accepted theory explaining the origin of the AIDS virus imagined a blood-to-blood transfer in which an African hunter slaughtered a chimpanzee and was infected through an open wound. Some experts had pointed out that that theory did not explain the sudden appearance of the disease in the late 1950s.