Wistar Institute Press Release on Testing of Polio Vaccine Samples

Contact: Franklin Hoke
Wistar Institute

No AIDS-related viruses or champanzee DNA found in 1950’s-era polio vaccine

Tests performed by three independent laboratories on 1950s-era polio vaccine samples from The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA, failed to find any traces of SIV, HIV-1, or DNA indicating that chimpanzee cells were used to prepare the vaccine, according to the scientist who coordinated the testing. Dr. Claudio Basilico, chairman of microbiology at New York University Medical Center and head of Wistar’s external AIDS/Poliovirus Advisory Committee, announced the findings today at a Royal Society meeting in London entitled “Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic.”

Taken together, the findings provide strong evidence to refute the theory that an oral polio vaccine prepared at The Wistar Institute and administered to people in the then Belgian Congo in the late 1950s provided the route of transmission for HIV or HIV-related viruses from chimpanzees to humans, as has been proposed by Mr. Edward Hooper in his book The River (Little, Brown and Co., 1999).

A linchpin in Hooper’s theory is the supposition that chimpanzee cells were used in the preparation of the vaccine. For this reason, it is significant that the tests identified DNA from only one species of primate – the Asian macaque monkey, not the chimpanzee – in the Wistar vaccine samples. The two former Wistar scientists who developed the vaccines, Dr. Hilary Koprowski and Dr. Stanley Plotkin, have long maintained that no chimpanzee cells were used in their preparation.

“There is nothing in the results from these tests to support the theory that HIV entered the human population during the late 1950s poliovirus clinical trials in Africa,” Dr. Basilico says. “The different tests performed by the three independent laboratories did not find any evidence of SIV or HIV in the samples nor did they find chimpanzee DNA. In fact, the laboratories were able to determine that all of the Wistar samples were grown in monkey cell cultures rather than chimpanzee cell cultures.”

“We want to thank Dr. Claudio Basilico and the Wistar external AIDS/Poliovirus Advisory Committee, as well as the laboratories who generously donated their resources to this project, for shepherding these tests through to a conclusion,” says Dr. Clayton Buck, acting director of The Wistar Institute. “We trust that these results will put to rest any remaining concerns of a link between a Wistar-produced oral polio vaccine and AIDS. The findings should also serve to restore public confidence in the production and administration of vaccines and in the response of science to public inquiry.”

For the tests, the Wistar samples were subdivided and coded by Dr. Vincent Racaniello, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Sets of the samples were then delivered to the three independent laboratories who had agreed to perform the tests: Dr. Shirley Kwok, Roche Molecular Systems, Pleasanton, CA; Dr. Svante Paabo, Max Planck Institute, Leipzig, Germany; and Dr. Simon Wain-Hobson, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France. Dr. Kwok tested for the presence of SIV/HIV in the samples; Dr. Paabo tested for the presence and species origin of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA in the samples; and Dr. Wain- Hobson’s laboratory performed both tests.

Additional sets of samples, including control samples, were prepared and coded by the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA, and delivered to the three testing laboratories. All codes were provided only to Dr. Basilico for later interpretation of the results.

The laboratories were selected by the Wistar external AIDS/Poliovirus Advisory Committee. The members of the committee are: Dr. Claudio Basilico, New York University Medical Center, New York, NY; Dr. Clayton Buck, Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA; Dr. Ronald Desrosiers, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Dr. David Ho, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, New York, NY; and Dr. Eckard Wimmer, SUNY at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY.

Wistar covered costs of about $20,000 associated with the testing, with the participating laboratories contributing additional materials and services estimated to approach $100,000 in total.

The Wistar Institute is an independent nonprofit biomedical research institution dedicated to discovering the basic mechanisms underlying major diseases, including cancer and AIDS, and to developing fundamentally new strategies to prevent or treat them. The Institute is a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center – one of the nation’s first, funded continuously since 1968, and one of only ten focused on basic research. Founded in 1892, Wistar was the first institution of its kind devoted to medical research and training in the nation.

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