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Seeds of Doom - Chapter 1

Da Cantiere.

Story of a controversial theory about the origin of AIDS

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Seeds of Doom · Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5 · Chapter 6 · Chapter 7 · Bibliography

Topic (in italian) · Sinopsis (in italian) · Calendar (in italian) · Reviews (in italian)

All translation · Italiano · Castellano · Română
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Seeds of Doom
Seeds of Doom

Seeds of Doom · Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5 · Chapter 6 · Chapter 7 · Bibliography
Topic (in italian) · Sinopsis (in italian) · Calendar (in italian) · Reviews (in italian)
All translation · Italiano · Castellano · Română




SV40 is a monkey virus. “V” for virus, “S” for simian, “of monkeys”, “40” because in 1960 when it was discovered, it was the 40th monkey virus to be identified.

Certain scientists say it is cancerous – that it causes cancer. Laboratory tests have confirmed that it causes cancer in hamsters. But what does that have to do with us? I mean – poor monkeys, poor hamsters. But for us humans what difference does it make if SV40 is cancerous or not?

Well it should make a difference considering that the major portion of the millions of polio vaccines produced between 1954 and 1963 were contaminated with it. So in fact it’s important to know whether SV40 is cancerous or not.

But let’s talk about AIDS because that’s what this presentation is about. AIDS is an illness caused by HIV. HIV is also a monkey virus (or at least it started out as one). Could it be that HIV, like SV40, was passed from monkeys to humans through polio vaccines?

But one thing at a time.

Chapter 1: Poliomyelitis

What is poliomyelitis?

What is poliomyelitis?<ref name="ftn0">Some references to the history of poliomyelitis are: (GOULD, T., "A Summer Plague : Polio and Its Survivors.", 1995); (KLEIN, A. E., "Trial By Fury; the Polio Vaccine Controversy.", 1972); (SMITH, J. S., "Patenting the Sun : Polio and the Salk Vaccine.", 1990); (CHASE, A., "Magic Shots : A Human and Scientific Account of the Long and Continuing Struggle to Eradicate Infectious Diseases By Vaccination.", 1982); (PAUL, J. R., "A History of Poliomyelitis.", 1971); (FISHER, P. J., "The Polio Story.", 1967); (CARTER, R., "Breakthrough; the Saga of Jonas Salk.", 1966); (WILSON, J. R., "Margin of Safety; the Story of Poliomyelitis Vaccine.", 1963); (WILLIAMS, G., "Virus Hunters.", 1960). </ref>

Well, we just need to take the name apart: "itis" = inflammation, "myelos" = matter, "polio" = grey. Inflammation of the grey matter... in the spinal cord. It's the illness caused by the poliovirus.

Very briefly, here is how it operates. The poliovirus enters the mouth, travels down, arrives in the intestines, causes fever for two weeks, then goes out and leaves the patient immune for life. Our immune system develops antibodies, so we get taken in only once. This happens in 95 out of 100 cases. In the other 5% however, the virus enters the mouth, travels down, and arrives in the intestines. From there it gets into the blood-stream and starts circulating until it arrives at the spinal cord, where it begins to multiply and cause damage. Then it can paralyze a leg, both legs... When it interrupts the contact between the spinal cord and the diaphragm, the victim dies of suffocation.

Never heard of it? And yet all of us have been vaccinated against the poliovirus. Poliomyelitis was the nightmare of our grandparents. You still don't remember? Wait: you remember Heidi?<ref name="ftn1">The story of Heidi, written by Johanna Spyri, waas published for the first time in 1880. There were many TV & film renditions, among them "Heidi" (1937) by Allan Dwan (with Shirley Temple in the role of the small Swiss girl), and the Japanese cartoon of the Seventies.</ref> Heidi had a friend. What was Heidi's friend's name? Clara! Little Clara. What was her problem? She was paralyzed, in a wheelchair. And why? Because she had... polio! Another example: you've all seen the movie Forrest Gump?<ref name="ftn2">"Forrest Gump" (1994), directed by Robert Zemeckis, with Tom Hanks.</ref> The child, from infancy had metal braces around his legs because he was a victim of... polio! Have you seen the war film Pearl Harbor?<ref name="ftn3">"Pearl Harbor" (2001) a film by Michael Bay. The president Franklin Delano Roosevelt was played by Jon Voight. </ref> At a certain point the president, with great difficulty, gets up on his feet and shouts, "Don't tell me it can't be done!" That president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, perhaps the greatest president of the United States, the only one to be elected 4 times, was afflicted as a young man by... polio! Now you remember! FDR and the fight against poliomyelitis. It was a priority on his political agenda. And the iron lung, remember? That huge iron tube where they put polio victims? It compressed and decompressed the air to do what the diaphragm was no longer able to do. A life closed in a cylinder. This didn't happen in the middle Ages, this was just 50 years ago!

But the history of the fight against poliomyelitis is an example of the determination of a whole nation, the USA, confronting its problems, focusing and concentrating its resources. A combination of politics and scientific progress. And after years of research and investment the solution to the problem was found at the end of the 50s with the development of the Salk and Sabin vaccines, which have completely eradicated polio in the developed countries and, hopefully, will succeed in doing so on every continent.

Salk and Sabin vaccines

This is the one developed by Jonas Salk.<ref name="ftn4">Jonas Edward Salk (1914-1995)</ref> (He takes a polio vaccine in hand) What's in here? Poliovirus. Dead... neutralized. How does it work? You take some poliovirus and kill it, or rather, you render it inactive with formaldehyde, then you inject it to stimulate the body to develop antibodies. Easy! Not really. The difficulty in preparing this vaccine is to get the right balance. In fact, first of all you have to be sure the virus is really inactivated, otherwise something might happen, like in the case of the Cutter accident where 200 children, instead of being immunized, contracted poliomyelitis.<ref name="ftn5">The Cutter accident wasn't the first instance of a problem with a poliovaccine. Other examples are the Brodie/Park and Kolmer vaccines tested in the mid-1930s in the USA and the Cox vaccine tested in Germany in the Fifties.</ref> But at the same time you can't inactivate it too much or it becomes twisted and the immune system doesn't recognize it and doesn't produce antibodies. So you end up with a vaccine, which is completely useless. But Salk succeeded in finding just the right balance. In 1954 millions of doses of his vaccine were tested and used, immediately reducing the number of cases of poliomyelitis. Today it's still one of the safest vaccines in the world. But there's one problem. The immunity is limited in time. After a few years it's necessary to re-vaccinate. And I don't like injections, if I can, I do without!

For this reason a second vaccine was developed: the Sabin vaccine. This one. (He takes another polio vaccine in hand) What's in here? Poliovirus. Live... attenuated. Deprived of its capacity to cause illness. How? Well here the process is much more complex. The poliovirus is passed through tissue taken from different animal species. Chemical substances are added. To put it simply, you wear it out and try to tame it. The Sabin vaccine is potentially more dangerous than the Salk because we're talking about a live virus, which could possibly be transmitted, to other people. But the advantages of it are numerous. First of all, it is administered orally by means of a few drops on a lump of sugar or on the tongue. But the main thing is, it provides immunity for life. Albert Sabin<ref name="ftn6">Albert Bruce Sabin (1906-1993)</ref> succeeded in developing the first attenuated oral vaccine, safe and efficient, which was tested in the Soviet Union at the end of the 50s and is still used today.

Who am I to be telling this story?

But just a moment here. Who am I to be telling this story? I'm not a doctor, not an historian, not a journalist. I'm just an ordinary person. So is what I'm telling you invented? No. Perhaps some of it is simplified, otherwise we'd be here for ages and you'd have to sniff coke to follow. Ok. But who or what gives me the right to speak about such a specialized topic? My diplomas? Obviously I've done my homework and I'm trying to understand and explain it logically. But we are so used to believing only the experts and specialists that we no longer think with our own heads. When we go to vote on genetically produced food or nuclear energy or complex questions of economy, why do we always have to trust blindly in the expert who happens to be at hand? Why can't we think on our own? In any case a bibliography is available so you can check for yourselves.

What have they got to do with monkeys?

OK. So let's get back to these vaccines. What have they got to do with monkeys? Well, if I have to vaccinate the population of a whole nation, I need millions of doses of vaccine, thousands of liters. I have to find a method for cultivating vaccine on an industrial scale. I have to find a kind of tissue on which the poliovirus can multiply. It thrives in the human spinal cord. Would you be willing to lend me yours? No? Well, since I can't use human tissue, I have to use... monkeys. Because of their genetic similarity to humans. But as it was soon discovered, even better than in the spinal cord, the virus grows well in the kidneys - in the kidneys of monkeys. So how do I proceed? The process is called amplification.<ref name="ftn7">The description of the process of amplification is partly based on the interview of Joseph, "nurse" of Camp Lindi in Belgian Congo, recorded in the Canadian documentary "The Origins of AIDS. A look at a controversial theory surrounding the origins of AIDS", directed by Peter Chappell & Catherine Peix, produced by Christine Le Goff, Arnie Gelbart, & Christine Pireaux (USA), screenplay (in English/French) by Peter Chappell & Stephane Horel, photography (BW/C) by Peter Krieger & Mark Daniels, edited by Catherine Peix, music by Frederic Lagnau & Phillip Glass, running time 1h 32min.</ref> I take a monkey and I open it up. I remove the liver and I go in and take out those two large lima beans that are in there, the kidneys. I cut these into very very fine pieces and I slide the resulting paste into a bottle with a nutritious substance. Then I add a little bit of vaccine from a test tube and wait until the virus reproduces. After a few days, using a filter, I remove the monkey cells and any possible bacteria and... that's it. A kind of multiplication rather like the loaves and the fishes.

But there's a problem with this process. Stowaways. The contamination of the vaccine by hidden monkey viruses. If there is a monkey virus in the kidneys, it won't be held back by the filter, because if the poliovirus passes, it will too. So it's dangerous to use monkeys! Researchers have always been aware of this and have tried to take precautions so the clandestine viruses don't contaminate the vaccine. And the danger should not be underestimated because certain monkey viruses are extremely lethal for humans. Sabin, for example, knew this very well. In 1932 it was actually he who identified an unknown virus in the cadaver of one of his colleagues who had been bitten by a monkey. Another was identified after a small epidemic broke out in a laboratory in Germany in 1967. The virus severely attacked 31 people of whom 7 died.<ref name="ftn8">(GARRETT, L., "The Coming Plague : Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance.", 1995) see pp. 53-9. </ref> But fortunately for us, these viruses were always discovered in time, thanks to various safety measures. In fact, before a monkey is used it is necessary to make sure it is healthy. How? Well, by examining it. Then, as a further precaution it is put in quarantine to see that it is not harboring some illness. So tests are made to make sure it is not infected with viruses. And then, if it is healthy, it is used.


So, everything going smoothly? No, because obviously you can only test the presence of viruses that you know. And so there was at least one that got past all the checks. You know it already: SV40. An Asian monkey virus. In 1960, right in the middle of all the vaccination campaigns around the whole world, it was discovered that the monkeys they were using to produce polio vaccine were healthy carriers of a virus.<ref name="ftn9">(SWEET, B. H. et al., Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine , 1960). </ref> When it was tested, it was found to cause cancer in hamsters.<ref name="ftn10">(GIRARDI, A. J. et al., Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine , 1962).</ref> So what happened? Panic! A potentially cancerous monkey virus had been transmitted to millions of people! I'm not telling you a story, the SV40 case is covered in any serious course in medicine. However, destiny would have it that this virus was pronounced harmless in humans.<ref name="ftn11">(SHAH, K. et al., American Journal of Epidemiology , 1976).</ref> Sheer luck. There are many modern studies re-opening the case because it seems that the virus is at least a secondary actor in the appearance of a certain type of tumor. But that's another story.<ref name="ftn12">(CARBONE, M. et al., Oncogene , 1994). A bibliography appears in (ELSWOOD, B. F. et al., Med Hypotheses , 1994). More details and a rich bibliography on SV40 can be found in (BOOKCHIN, D. et al., "The Virus and the Vaccine : The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed.", 2004)</ref>

Dr Hilary Koprowski, who at the time of this drama was in competition with Sabin, having also developed an oral polio vaccine, wrote to the World Health Organization urging them to abandon the use of monkey kidney tissue cultures: ...monkey kidneys are too dangerous and could possibly reveal other surprises...<ref name="ftn13">(KOPROWSKI, H., JAMA , 1961) and (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 213-6. Koprowski decided to switch to Human Diploid Cell Strains (HDCS) developed in his laboratory (HAYFLICK, L. et al., Am J Hyg , 1962).</ref> But his advice was not followed and it was simply decided to abandon Asian monkeys, used until then, and to use African green monkeys instead because they were not naturally contaminated by SV40.<ref name="ftn14">(ELSWOOD, B. F. et al., Med Hypotheses , 1994).</ref> Incidentally, they aren't green, they're grey. Only their genitals are colored. "Much of the oral polio vaccine used throughout the world is produced in primary kidney cells from this species."<ref name="ftn15">(KANKI, P. J. et al., Science , 1985). In 1988 the result of this group was invalidated, because it was based on a laboratory contamination. Nevertheless an immunodeficiency virus of African Green Monkeys was correctly identified (FUKASAWA, M. et al., Nature , 1988). More details on the episode in (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 108-9.</ref> What's important about this sentence? It was written in 1985 in Science, one of the most prestigious scientific magazines in the world, in an article reporting the discovery in this type of monkey of a virus, which is genetically very similar to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS in humans.

Now it's time to explain what HIV has got to do with monkeys.