HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

Posts Tagged ‘HIV never isolated’

Measuring VIRAL LOAD WITHOUT VIRUS: Where are the virions?

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/08/10

A continuing puzzle, at least for this lay person, is why HIV/AIDS researchers have never bothered to extract virions—whole particles of HIV—from HIV-positive people or from AIDS patients. Soon after “infection”, after all, the former are supposed to be teeming with virus, and AIDS victims are supposed to be full of virus (again) by the time opportunistic infections get a foothold; according to Fauci et al., there are then about 1,000,000 million and 100,000 “HIV RNA copies”, respectively, in each milliliter of plasma, each copy supposedly representing a virion:

Since primary infection and “acute viral syndrome” are often unaccompanied by any clinical symptoms—at best (or worst) mild flu-like signs or rashes—I had long thought that it would be unfair to chide mainstream researchers for failing to extract genuine virus at that stage. But, it turns out, some researchers have been able to carry out sophisticated studies of blood drawn during those critical initial weeks of primary infection.

Gasper-Smith et al. report on “Induction of plasma (TRAIL), TNFR-2, Fas ligand, and plasma microparticles after Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) transmission: Implications for HIV-1 vaccine design”, Journal of Virology 82 [2008] 7700-10. They conclude that “Release of products of cell death and subsequent immunosuppression following HIV-1 transmission could potentially narrow the window of opportunity during which a vaccine is able to extinguish HIV-1 infection and could place severe constraints on the amount of time available for the immune system to respond to the transmitted virus”.

The researchers had been able to obtain from ZeptoMetrix Corporation of Buffalo (NY) “seroconversion panels” consisting of “sequential aliquots of plasma (range, 4 to 30 aliquots) collected approximately every 3 days during the time of acute infection with HIV-1”; they cite, for the availability of these seroconversion panels, Fiebig et al., “Dynamics of HIV viremia and antibody seroconversion in plasma donors: Implications for diagnosis and staging of primary HIV infection” , AIDS 17 [2003] 1871-9.

Here, it seemed to me, had been an ideal opportunity to extract veritable whole particles of HIV generated during the acute initial infection. But the only mention of “virion” in the Gasper-Smith article is in this sentence: “While the average peak HIV-1 VL level was 1,421,628 copies/ ml, the average total MP peak level was 606,881,733/ml. Thus, at the times of maximum VL and MP levels, the average number of MPs was 427 times larger than the average number of virions”. “VL” of course is viral load. “MP” is not military police (or, as Lucas reminded me, Members of Parliament), it is “microparticles”:

“MPs are small membrane-bound vesicles that are released from the surface of apoptotic cells by exocytic or budding processes; . . . . MPs, which circulate in the blood under many clinical conditions, are part of a spectrum of subcellular structures that are released from cells and can be distinguished from exosomes . . . . MPs have immunomodulatory activities and can promote immune cell death; exosomes are also immunologically active, can suppress immune responses . . . , and have been reported to have been found at elevated levels in cases of chronic HIV-1 infection . . . . If elevations in levels of immunosuppressive molecules, coupled with early CD4+ T-cell death, occur early following HIV-1 transmission, then these events could potentially define a protected time during which HIV-1 is able to replicate while anti-HIV-1 T- or B-cell responses are suppressed” [emphases added].

Gasper-Smith et al. counted and extracted and studied the MPs by flow cytometry and electron microscopy. Why did they not also study HIV particles? Did the freezing and storing of the plasma destroy HIV virions while leaving MPs intact?

There were 427 times as many MPs as copies of RNA supposed to stem from HIV. MPs can “promote immune cell death”. How do we know that the CD4 cells supposedly killed by HIV weren’t killed by the MPs?

Though phrased rhetorically and left unanswered, I intend those questions to be taken quite seriously. If I wanted to be flippant or sarcastic, I might have commented once again on the peculiar penchant among HIV/AIDS researchers to imply that their measurements are accurate to an impossible number of significant figures when they report MPs of “606,881,733/ml”. That’s one of the drawbacks of the digital age, I suppose. In the good old days when we read measurements off scales with pointers, we weren’t tempted to write down meaningless numbers.

Perhaps Fiebig et al., cited by Gasper-Smith et al. for the brilliant idea of getting those stored samples from blood donors, had looked for whole particles of HIV?

“Because of the difficulty in obtaining blood samples representing early acute HIV infection from clinical patients, most patients do not come to medical attention until weeks to months after infection, we resorted to stored, frozen plasma collections from plasma donors, who unrelated to donating became infected with HIV, and were deferred from further donating. As plasma donors donate on average twice a week, and every donation is tested for HIV and held for 60 days before release, their archived samples provide a unique record of the infection from timepoints before viral exposure until seroconversion and beyond. . . . Plasma donations (600-800 ml) from source plasma donors were routinely collected at approximately twice weekly intervals and stored frozen at -20oC or less.”

Plenty of material to work with, it would seem—600 ml is well over a pint, and ought to contain many millions of HIV virions, at “1,421,628” per ml.

But, NO. In the Fiebig article, there’s not a single mention of “virion”. They used ELISA, p24 antigen, and HIV-1-RNA tests to determine how much “HIV” was present.


Is the failure to even try to extract virions somehow related to the fact that Gallo was more often able to “isolate” HIV from “pre-AIDS” patients than from those who actually had AIDS? Here’s from the Abstract of Gallo’s ground-breaking article that followed the press conference announcing discovery of the probable cause of AIDS:

“Peripheral blood lymphocytes from patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or with signs or symptoms that frequently precede AIDS (pre-AIDS) were grown in vitro with added T-cell growth factor and assayed for the expression and release of human T-lymphotropic retroviruses (HTLV)” (Gallo et al., Science 224 [1984] 500-3).

That’s what Gallo means by “isolation”, as other rethinkers have often remarked. It’s not the commonly used meaning of the word, namely, “extraction” or “separation from”. And it’s not as though the “assaying” involved separating virions from those cultures, either.

“Retroviruses . . . were isolated from a total of 48 subjects including 18 of 21 patients with pre-AIDS, three of four clinically normal mothers of juveniles with AIDS, 26 of 72 adult and juvenile patients with AIDS, and from one of 22 normal male homosexual subjects”.

Why from more pre-AIDS than from actual AIDS patients?

The Abstract ends with “These results and those reported elsewhere in this issue suggest that HTLV-III may be the primary cause of AIDS” [emphases added].

From that modest suggestion, the dogma that HIV causes AIDS evolved without the benefit of direct isolation—extraction, separation—of whole infectious virions from even a single HIV-positive or AIDS-suffering person, or from plasma preserved from periods of “acute viral syndrome”.

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Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/01/15

Etienne de Harven, MD, is Emeritus Professor of Pathology, University of Toronto; he has been a member of the Sloan Kettering Institute (New York) and was on the AIDS Advisory Panel set up by President T. Mbeki in 2000. He has special expertise in electron microscopy; already 4 decades ago he published electron micrographs of the Friend leukemia virus.

On 8 December 2003, he addressed the European Parliament on “Problems with isolating HIV”. That address has never previously been published in English, and I’m delighted and honored that he was willing to have it posted here. Professor de Harven’s contact information is:
“Le Mas Pitou”, 2879 Route de Grasse, 06530 Saint Cézaire, France;
e-mail; Tel or Fax (33) 4 93 60 28 39



How can we best help Africa? How can we set priorities aimed at bringing under control what is described as an AIDS epidemic? For twenty years, all AIDS research has been based on the HIV hypothesis. Do we now have reasons to question this hypothesis? Yes, because there is a major problem with isolation and purification of HIV. The major problem being that, in spite of innumerable claims to the contrary, this retrovirus has never been isolated nor purified in a scientifically acceptable manner that would satisfy the classic requirements of virology.

To demonstrate the problem’s magnitude it appears necessary to compare current results on HIV with those obtained, previously, in experimental pathology, on another retrovirus known to be significantly associated with a particular leukaemia of laboratory mice, the Friend leukaemia. Both retroviruses, i.e. the Friend leukaemia virus and the HIV hypothetically related to AIDS, share extremely similar morphology under the electron microscope, have identical diameters, and sediment at the same density in sucrose gradients. A direct comparison between isolating and purifying these two different retroviruses is, therefore, entirely appropriate.

Mice suffering from the Friend leukaemia have considerable numbers of retroviral particles in their blood stream. This phenomenon, described as “viraemia“ in the past (1), would be called “viral load“, in today ’s terminology. From only a few ml of the blood plasma of leukaemic mice, the viral particles could be readily separated by a simple technique of ultrafiltration, then sedimented by high-speed centrifugation and finally prepared for electron microscopy. The results are illustrated in the first slide.


On this electron microscope image, a uniform population of virus particles is clearly recognized. They all have the same diameter and morphology, and one has to look very carefully to identify rare, non-viral structures, attesting to the high degree of purification of these retroviral particles. Such samples of purified retrovirus were successfully used to identify viral proteins and to extract viral RNA. The method applied to achieve this purification of a typical retrovirus is rapid, inexpensive and highly reproducible.

Most surprisingly, nobody has ever succeeded in demonstrating HIV particles in the blood of any AIDS patient by this simple method, even though patients were selected for presenting a so-called high “viral load” as determined by PCR methods. This embarrassing lack of electron microscope evidence for substantiating the nature of the so-called viral load in AIDS patients was first reported during an important AIDS conference that took place in Pretoria, S.A., in May 2000 (2). None of the AIDS experts present at that conference could demonstrate the presence of retroviral particles in the blood of AIDS patients. Moreover, almost two years ago, a substantial award ($100,000) was officially offered (3) to anybody who would demonstrate HIV particles in the blood of allegedly high viral load patients. Two years later, the award has still not been claimed. Obviously, what was so readily and reproducibly demonstrated in leukaemic mice has never been observed in any AIDS patient.


Over the past 20 years, the medical literature has been inundated with innumerable papers, attempting to dodge the lack of electron microscope evidence for the presence of retroviral particles in samples directly collected from AIDS patients. In all these papers, the missing retroviral particles have been swiftly substituted with so-called HIV “markers”. These “markers” were of physical, biochemical, or genetic nature.

Physical markers.
As known for a very long time, classic retroviruses identified in chicken, mice and cats, all share the same shape and density, and therefore sediment at exactly the same level during high-speed centrifugation in sucrose gradients. Actually, they all sediment at the density of 1.16 gm of sucrose per ml (4). The alleged HIV being classified as a retrovirus, it was logical to expect it to sediment at that same density.
However, as was also well known years before the emergence of AIDS, a large variety of cellular fragments and debris also sediment at that density (5, 6). Collecting material sedimenting at that density does not, therefore, demonstrate the isolation of retroviruses, unless a careful control by electron microscopy rules out any contamination by cellular debris. The importance of these essential controls was stressed during a conference that took place in Paris, in 1973 (4). Most surprisingly, in the same laboratory of the Pasteur Institute, then years later, in 1983, a paper was published (7), in which these controls were missing. It appeared later (20), however, that these controls were attempted but gave discouraging results. Still, in the title of that paper, “isolation” of a new retrovirus, the future HIV, was announced. Dramatically enough, this is the paper that placed AIDS research on highly questionable tracks for the following two decades.

Biological markers.
In 1970, Temin (8 ) and Baltimore (9) discovered the activity of a so far totally unexpected enzyme in allegedly purified samples of experimental retroviruses. This enzyme was called “reverse transcriptase” because it induces DNA synthesis from RNA templates. It was indeed a fundamental discovery that revolutionized molecular biology. This enzyme activity was first observed in RNA tumour viruses and was, therefore, initially thought to represent a characteristic “marker” of these viruses which, consequently, received a new name: “retroviruses”. Ever since, reverse transcriptase activity has been used as a “marker” for HIV…

However, shortly after the publications by Temin and Baltimore, it was discovered that reverse transcriptase activity was not restricted to “retroviruses” but was in fact a most common phenomenon in biology (10, 11), as reviewed by Varmus in 1987 (12). Unfortunately, and yet again, Temin and Baltimore omitted to verify the purity of the viral samples on which their observations were made. Consequently, any contamination of these samples by cell, bacterial, or mycoplasma debris could just as well have explained the presence of the reverse transcriptase activity observed by these authors. In 1983, the Pasteur group based their claim for the isolation of a new retrovirus primarily on 1) the detection of reverse transcriptase activity in 2) material sedimenting at the density of 1.16 gm/ml. These two criteria completely lose significance if the data are not verified by electron microscopy to exclude possible interference by non-viral contaminants known to be frequently present in allegedly “purified” retroviruses (5, 6).

Several proteins, allegedly of viral origin, are frequently used as “specific” HIV markers, p24 for example. Doubts concerning its specificity have been expressed for a long time (15). The complete lack of agreement between results obtained with p24 and measurements of “viral load” obtained by PCR were recently stressed (13). Surprisingly, in Western blot tests, 40% of sera from dogs reacted positively with proteins obtained by genetic recombination technology, such as gp120, gp47, p31 and p24 (14). This had to be expected since Eleni Papadopoulos, Val Turner and the Perth Group had initially, extensively demonstrated the total lack of specificity of all the alleged HIV structural proteins in a paper, published 10 years ago in Nature Biotechnology (15), a fundamental paper that was completely ignored. To cite only key examples, gp41 probably corresponds to actin, and gp120-160 are likely oligomers of gp41. Evidently, cell debris contaminating very poorly purified retroviral samples may also readily account for the presence of alleged retroviral markers, and frequently reported “successes” in HIV “isolation” most likely result from faulty reliance on non-specific “markers”.

Genetic markers and measurements of “viral load”.

This approach could seem more attractive for two reasons: 1) it applies directly to a patient’s blood, therefore avoiding all the uncertainties of complex cell cultures, and 2) it is supposed to be a quantitative method.

However, as already stressed, it has never been possible to visualize any retroviral particle by electron microscopy in the blood of AIDS patients, even though these patients are selected for having a so-called very high “viral load” (2). Moreover, it appears very likely that PCR methods amplify small RNA fragments, more frequently observed under conditions of stress and of chronic illnesses (16), and which include retroviral segments originating from human endogenous retrovirus [endogenous = originating within the body, native to the human genome, not from external source]. This is not surprising since about 2% of the human genome has marked homology with the retroviral genome (17). Consequently, “measuring” the “viral load” by PCR methods is likely to have no relationship whatsoever with real quantification of a hypothetical exogenous [having a cause external to the body] HIV viremia. Kary Mullis himself, Nobel Prize laureate for his discovery of the PCR method, categorically rejects the use of “his” method for quantitative measurements of a hypothetical HIV viremia (18 ).

The abuse of… beautiful pictures.

The “viral load” of newspapers and magazines, all over the world is extremely high, meaning the number of pictures of HIV published almost daily in the world’s press. These pictures are extremely attractive, and are frequently rich in artificial colors. They clearly exemplify the danger of misinforming the public with computer graphics. To publish such images brings to the attention of the general public, and of the medical profession as well, an apparently crystal-clear message: “Yes, HIV has been isolated since one can portray it under the electron microscope”.


All these images are computerized rationalizations and embellishments of actual electron microscope pictures similar to those illustrating, for example, Barré-Sinoussi’s paper (7). But not one of these pictures originated directly from one single AIDS patient! They ALL originated from complex cell cultures prepared in various laboratories (19), cultures that have been described as “real retroviral soups” (20). Indeed, everything was done to make sure that retroviral particles (and the celebrated budding forms) would appear in these cultures. Not done were the essential verification experiments that could have clarified the endogenous origin of these viruses. Even if these control experiments were done, their results were apparently never published. We are still waiting for a newspaper that would publish beautiful computer graphics of HIV and would have the honesty to explain to their readers that all these still have to be confirmed with samples originating directly from AIDS patients.

In AIDS research, most of the cell cultures used are mixed and hyper-stimulated.

Mixed, because they contain, for example, lymphocytes from a patient plus the H9 cells from Gallo’s lab, cells well known to be chronic carriers of retroviruses (21). Or, as in the Pasteur Institute case (7), lymphocytes from an AIDS suspected patient plus lymphocytes isolated from umbilical cord blood that originated in the placenta and known since 1979 (22) to be likely to carry human endogenous retrovirus.

These cultures are hyperstimulated with one or two growth factors such as phytohemagglutinin (PHA), T cell lymphocyte growth factor (TCGF), interleukin2, or corticosteroid hormones. All these factors are known to activate the expression of endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), which are defective viruses that may acquire envelopes and bud on the surface of cells activated by these factors. Presumably, this is exactly what happened when cord blood lymphocytes were activated with PHA and TCGF in the Pasteur 1983 experiments (7). Unfortunately, the control experiments needed to verify this interpretation remain to be done.

In short, it seems that electron microscopy was not used when it was essential to demonstrate the absence of contaminating cell debris in allegedly purified virus preparations, and misinterpreted when stimulated cord blood lymphocytes showed budding retroviruses.


Indeed, HIV has never been properly isolated, nor purified, and, consequently, the HIV/AIDS hypothesis has to be fundamentally reappraised (23, 24, 25, 30, 32).

More precisely, without purification of HIV, HIV-specific antigens could never have been rigorously identified (15). Still, so-called HIV antigens are instrumental in all the serological tests allegedly identifying specific HIV antibodies—ELISA, Western Blot, and more recent rapid tests such as “ Capillus”, “Determine”, and “Vironostika”. Recombinant DNA technology for “viral” antigens certainly yields purer products, but fails to make up for the missing specificity. No surprise, therefore, that dozens of different medical conditions, including tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, multiple blood transfusions, many vaccines, multiparity, etc. all give false-positive “HIV” tests (26).

Retroviral particles have unquestionably been observed, not directly in AIDS patients, but in mixed, hyper-stimulated cell cultures (7). They most likely represent forced expression, in cell cultures, of human endogenous retroviruses (17), whose hypothetical role in the etiology of AIDS has never been proved.

The HIV particles, missing from the patients, have been conveniently substituted by molecular “markers”, because the HIV=AIDS hypothesis had to be saved at all cost (see the Durban Declaration, 27), even at the price of scientific integrity (28 ).

If AIDS were indeed caused by a retrovirus, how can we explain that 20 years of considerable research efforts, based exclusively on that single hypothesis, have failed to isolate the responsible exogenous retrovirus? Twenty years to end up with no curative treatment, no vaccine, and no verifiable epidemiological predictions.

Obviously, time is pressing us to ask courageously the essential question, namely, is the HIV=AIDS hypothesis correct? Because it is entirely possible to view AIDS differently, outside the field of infectious diseases, and outside the field of retrovirology (29). And in this perspective, which is replete with optimistic predictions, all the difficulties encountered in attempted isolation and purification of the hypothetical HIV may find an extremely rational explanation. Indeed, doubts concerning the very existence of HIV are nothing new, and were expressed by several dissident scientists several years ago (30, 31). I completely share these doubts. Let us not forget the title of Peter Duesberg’s book (33) published in 1996: “Inventing the AIDS Virus”.
Consequently, priorities for medical assistance to sub-Saharan Africa should, most urgently, be revised as follows:

— Treat all endemic tropical diseases with their specific treatments.

— Stop all use of antiretroviral drugs until the isolation of HIV and its pathogenicity are scientifically established.

— Stop using highly crossreacting serological tests, the HIV specificity of which is far from demonstrated.

— Provide African people with clean drinking water, proper housing and sanitation, efficient health-care infrastructures, and means to combat malnutrition.

Thank you.

References (the URLs below are no longer active)

(1) de Harven E. Viremia in Friend murine leukemia: the electron microscope approach to the problem. Pathologie-Biologie 1965; 13: 125-134. See also de Harven E., Pioneer deplores “ HIV”, Continuum 1997; 5 #2: 24.
(2) de Harven E. Summary statement. Interim Report of the AIDS Advisory Panel, Pretoria, SA, May 2000. Published by the Government of South Africa, 4 April 2001.
(3) Russel A.
(4) Sinoussi F et al. Purification and partial differentiation of the particles of murine sarcoma virus (MMSV) according to their sedimentation rates in sucrose density gradients. Spectra, #4, 1973, pp 239-243.
(5) Bess JW et al. Microvesicles are a source of contaminating cellular proteins found in purified HIV-1 preparations. Virology 1997; 203: 134-144.
(6) Gluschankof P et al. Cell membrane vesicles are a major contaminant of gradient-enriched human immunodeficiency virus type-1 preparations. Virology 1997; 230: 125-133.
(7) Barré-Sinoussi F. et al. Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Science 1983; 220: 868-871.
(8 ) Temin HM, Mizutani S. RNA-dependent DNA polymerase in virions of Rous sarcoma virus. Nature 1970; 226: 1211-1213.
(9) Baltimore D. RNA-dependent DNA polymerase. Nature 1970; 226: 1209-1211.
(10) Ross J et al. Separation of murine cellular and murine leukemia virus DNA polymerases. Nature New Biology 1971; 231: 163-167.
(11) Beljanski M. Synthèse in vitro de l’ADN sur une matrice d’ARN par une transcriptase d’Esscherichia coli. Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences 1972; 274: 2801-2804.
(12) Varmus H. Reverse transcription. Scientific American 1987; 257: 48-54.
(13) Franchi F. In search of HIV; frah08.htm
(14) Strandstrom HV et al. Studies with canine sera that contain antibodies which recognize human immunodeficiency virus structural proteins. Cancer Research 1990; 50: 5628s-5630s.
(15) Papadopulos-Eleopulos E et al. Is a positive Western blot proof of HIV infection? Bio/Technology 1993; 11: 696-707.
(16) Urnovitz HB et al. RNAs in the sera of Persian Gulf War veterans have segments homologous to chromosome 22Q11.2. Clinical and diagnostic laboratory immunology 1999; 6/3: 330-335. See also
(17) Löwer R et al. The viruses in all of us : characteristics and biological significance of human endogenous retrovirus sequences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 1996; 93: 5177-5184.
(18 ) Mullis K. “ Dancing naked in the Mine Field”. Pantheon, 1998.
(19) Gelderblom HR. HIV sequence data base : fine structure of HIV and SIV.
(20) Tahi D. Did Montagnier discover HIV ? “I repeat, we did not purify!”. Continuum 1997; 5: 30-34.
(21) Dourmashkin RR et al. The presence of budding virus-like particles in human lymphoid cells used for HIV cultivation. VIIth International Conference on AIDS. Firenze 1992: 122.
(22) Panem S. C-type virus expression in the placenta. Current Topics in Pathology 1979; 66: 175-189.
(23) Shenton J. “Positively False”. I.B. Tauris & Co, 1998.
(24) Hodgkinson N. “The Failure of Contemporary Science – How a Virus that Never Was Deceived the World”. Fourth Estate, 1996.
(25) Russeil R. “Enquête sur le Sida – Les Vérités Muselées”. Editions Vivez Soleil (Chêne-Bourg/Genève), 1996.
(26) Johnson C. Whose antibodies are they anyway ? Continuum Sept/Oct. 1996.
(27) Weiss R, Wain-Hobson S. The Durban declaration. Nature 2000; 406: 15-16.
(28 ) Stewart GT et al. Not all accepted the Durban Declaration. Nature 2000; 407: 286.
(29) Duesberg P, Köhnlein C, Rasnick D. The chemical bases of the various AIDS epidemics: recreational drugs, anti-viral chemotherapy and malnutrition. Journal of Bioscience 2003, 28 #4: 383-412. See French translation at
(30) Papadopulos-Eleopulos E. A brief history of retroviruses. Continuum 1997; 5: 25-29.
(31) Lanka S. HIV, reality or artefact? Continuum 1995; 3 #1: 4-9.
(32) Rasnick D. The AIDS Blunder. Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg, South Africa), 24 January 2001.
(33) Duesberg P. “Inventing the AIDS Virus”. Regnery, 1996.

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