Science Fiction or Fact?

In “The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS”, Edward Hooper claims that HIV-1 was introduced into humans in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1950s. He suggests that the stocks of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) that were being used in clinical trials were produced in cultures of kidney cells from chimpanzees that were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus, SIV, the predecessor of HIV.

Hooper’s hypothesis has been convincingly shown to be incorrect by a number of independent investigations. For example, analysis of the OPV used for the Congo trials revealed that it was not produced in chimpanzee cell culture (Nature. 2001 Apr 26;410(6832):1035-6). In addition, the strains of SIV that circulate in chimpanzees in the Congo are distinct from all strains of HIV-1 (Nature. 2004 Apr 22;428(6985):820).

A recent article by Paul Osterrieth (Oral polio vaccine: Fact versus fiction) provides the final death knell for Hooper’s hypothesis. According to Hooper, Dr. Osterrieth was responsible for preparing kidney cell culture from chimpanzees and using these cultures to prepare the stocks of OPV used in the Congo trials.

Osterrieth categorically denies that he ever sacrificed chimpanzees to produce kidney cell cultures, and states that he never prepared any poliovirus in cell culture. The article is well worth reading because it highlights the non-scientific means used by Hooper to support his now defunct hypothesis. As Osterrieth writes, “Mr. Hooper’s method is to take any word slip or hesitation and to convert it into a mysterious allusion to hidden crimes. This is the way of a prosecutor, not an investigator, and it has more to do with science fiction than fact.”

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