In 1981, in Los Angeles, California, immunologist Michael Gottlieb tested the blood of a patient being treated by a colleague and found a very low number of T4 "helper" cells. An open lung biopsy then performed on the patient disclosed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia. The patient soon died.

By May of that year, Gottlieb and his colleagues had treated five similar patients and reported their work in the June 5, 1981, issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control (the "CDC"). All of them had Immune Deficiency Syndrome and active opportunistic diseases.(1) The only problem was that there was no known cause for the immune deficiency. None of them was suffering from malnutrition or sleep deprivation, and none was being treated with immunosuppressive drugs prior to coming down with an opportunistic disease. In short, they were suffering from Immune Deficiency Syndrome that had been "acquired" from some unknown cause.

Soon other cases were being reported of opportunistic infections from suppressed immune systems with no known cause. In fact, 87 cases of AIDS were reported in the first six months of 1981; 365 cases in the first six months of 1982; and 1215 cases in the same period in 1983.(2) It was now clear that we had a new disease affecting human beings: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- AIDS.

(Some people had died of AIDS before 1981, as proven by reviewing their medical records later. Their deaths had been attributed to other causes, since AIDS had not yet been recognized.(3) It took Michael Gottlieb to put the first pieces of the puzzle together and alert the medical community to a potentially new epidemic.)

SITUATION ALERT: Something unknown is affecting the human immune system by destroying or interfering with the normal T-cell activity, giving rise to various opportunistic diseases, which in turn kill the patient.

QUESTION: What is it?

The search was on. Virtually every research scientist in every field started looking for the cause of AIDS. Bacteriologists sought a bacterial agent (as in Tuberculosis). Virologists looked for a virus (as in Polio). Public health officials searched for an environmental cause (as in Salmonella or Scurvy). And they all had a set of rules to determine whether or not the theories they proposed could be the actual cause of AIDS. These rules had been in effect and accepted by medical/science researchers for over 100 years. They're called Koch's Postulates, after Robert Koch, who first put them in writing.

Koch's Postulate Number One says that the suspected cause of any disease must be found in every case of that disease. For example, the tubercle bacillus can be found in the lung tissue of every case of TB.

Koch's Postulate Number Two says that the causal agent (bacteria, virus, parasite, fungus, etc.) must be able to be isolated from all other microbes and grown independently in a laboratory culture -- proving that it is alive and active, reproducible, and acting independently from anything else.

And Koch's Postulate Number Three says that this microbe must create the same disease when introduced into an otherwise healthy body (usually a test animal).

Research and testing such as this takes time and money and equipment and support. In the early 1980's, the virologists commanded most of the money and attention. The apparent success of Jonas Salk and the polio virus/vaccine in the 1950's and '60's had given the virus hunters the edge over the others in terms of standing in the profession, credence for their theories, and money and laboratory space. Their most recent efforts had been to find a viral cause for cancer, which resulted in the discovery of "retroviruses." (The virus later called "HIV" is a retrovirus.)

In late 1982, a Frenchman was diagnosed with cytomegalovirus -- one of the opportunistic diseases. He had other symptoms of general debility, fatigue, and enlarged lymph nodes, and was almost certainly an AIDS case. Tissues from his body were sent to The Pasteur Institute, where Luc Montagnier began searching for signs of a retrovirus. On January 23, 1983, he found one, and called it LAV (Lymphadenopathy-Associated Virus).(4) But this was just one retrovirus found in the tissues of just one patient, and it had not been tested to find out if it met Koch's Postulates. So Luc Montagnier was not prepared to call it the cause of AIDS. It was only a possibility.

Montagnier published his findings in May of 1983 so that other researchers could test and duplicate and corroborate his results, as is the standard procedure in any medical and scientific research. In July of 1983, the Pasteur Institute also sent a sample of the LAV virus to Robert Gallo, head of the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States.

Skipping Koch's Postulate Number One for the moment, Gallo tried to grow the LAV virus in his own lab (Koch's Postulate Number Two), but was originally not able to do so. Another sample had to be sent from France in September; and by December, Gallo's lab was successfully cultivating LAV.(5)

But Gallo was already immersed in his own theory of what caused AIDS. A few years earlier, in his search for the cause of cancer, Gallo had discovered two retroviruses that looked similar, which he called HTLV-1 and HTLV-2 (Human T-cell Leukemia Virus). In December of 1983, he submitted a paper for publication proposing the theory that an HTLV retrovirus was the cause of AIDS.(6)

The logic here is a little hard to follow. Leukemia is a form of cancer. Cancer is widely known and accepted to be an abnormal and uncontrollable multiplication of cells, which then form tumors. This means that a Leukemia virus, such as HTLV-1 or -2, should cause the T-cells to multiply, not decrease, as found in AIDS. However, in his quest to be the new Jonas Salk, Gallo was apparently able to overlook this "minor" inconsistency. And since no one else was coming up with anything better....

Sometime between December 1983 and April 1984, Robert Gallo claims he made another new discovery -- a third retrovirus in the HTLV family, which he called HTLV-3. But rather than submitting and publishing his research for others to verify, he chose another venue.

On April 23, 1984, Margaret Heckler (Secretary of Health and Human Services -- a cabinet member in Ronald Reagan's administration) called a press conference in Washington, D.C. and introduced Robert Gallo, who announced to the world that he had found the cause of AIDS: his new retrovirus, HTLV-3. He even showed pictures of HTLV-1, -2, and -3 to those in attendance. Unfortunately, HTLV-3 didn't look anything like HTLV-1 or HTLV-2, and it was hard to see how they could be of the same family. As it turned out, the picture of HTLV-3 was actually a picture of the LAV virus sent to Gallo by Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute.(7)

But, thank goodness, the cause of AIDS had been discovered. Granted, it was a Leukemia virus that should send the T-cell count out the roof instead of plummeting toward zero. Granted, HTLV-3 had not been found in every AIDS patient -- or even one AIDS patient (Koch's Postulate Number One). Granted, no one else had had the opportunity to isolate and grow it in their own labs (Koch's Postulate Number Two). And granted, no animal testing had been done to see if HTLV-3 would cause AIDS if introduced into a healthy body (Koch's Postulate Number Three).(8)

But the search was over. The cause of AIDS had been found. It was discovered by Robert Gallo. Or was it? The French didn't think so. The picture of Gallo's HTLV-3 was indisputably a picture of Montagnier's LAV virus. And so began a three-year, ultra-high-level, diplomatic negotiation between the U.S. and France that ended in 1987 with an agreement that the cause of AIDS had been jointly discovered by both countries.(9)

Who cares? It should only be important that the cause of AIDS had been found, and now lives could be saved. But that wasn't the issue. You see, on the very same day that Gallo announced at his press conference that he had found the cause of AIDS, he filed a U.S. patent application for the blood test that would detect the HTLV-3 virus. This patent would be worth about $100 million a year in sales and $100,000 personally to Gallo. The French had also filed a patent request in 1983 for the blood test for their LAV virus, but it had never been approved in the U.S. The issue, as usual, was money.

And there was another problem. In Gallo's patent documentation, he stated under oath -- as is required -- that the virus could be massed produced for the tests within indefinitely growing, "immortal" T-cells.(10) But isn't the cause of AIDS supposed to kill T-cells?

Despite these glaring inconsistencies, and the lack of any scientific or research evidence, and the absence of any conformity to Koch's Postulates, and the inability of any of his peers to make independent verification of his claims, Robert Gallo was a hero. He had discovered the cause of AIDS -- the HTLV-3 virus, as he called it....or the LAV virus, as the French called it. To settle this dispute, in early 1987 an international committee came up with a new name for the virus: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The name itself solidified the relationship of this new retrovirus to the disease called AIDS, although no scientific evidence had yet been presented that there was any relationship at all -- much less a causal one.

Continue with "What the Evidence Shows"

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