This post may be controversial to some, but I see it as something worth talking about.
I heard about Peter Duesberg last semester in my BIO 1610 class, then I read a Newsweek article about him, entitled “The World’s Most Reviled Genius.” In the article you learn quite a bit about Duesberg, his professional career, as well as some basic science/biology. Duesberg became pretty famous in his pioneering work on finding the causes of cancer back in the ’60s. He set himself apart as a true savant for the next two decades, but then began going in a new direction.
Instead of going along with the whole oncogene origin theory of cancer, to which he contributed, he theorized that aneuploidy is the true cause of cancer. In layman’s terms, this is when a cell has either an excess or absence of chromosomes. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, because cells have “self-destruct” mechanisms that takes over once this condition is recognized, but sometimes it doesn’t happen correctly. Down syndrome is caused by this, but according to Newsweek and Duesberg’s research, this condition is also present in the majority of cancers and tumors. While this isn’t a very popular idea in the U.S., some scientists overseas are starting to take notice of his research.
But this isn’t the reason why Duesberg has been ostracized from the scientific community and his peers don’t even want to be seen with him in public. No, you see, twenty years ago, when the race was on to uncover the cause behind AIDS, and HIV was looking like the premiere candidate, our rogue flatly rejected the HIV hypothesis, even after it became the accepted explanation. This stubborn refusal of such a widely accepted understanding of the disease was almost a death knell for his career.
But to this day he stands by his own theory and he isn’t the only one unconvinced. There’s a small camp claiming AIDS denialism, but it doesn’t seem he associates too much with these sort of conspiracy theorists. They tend to deny it exists altogether, claim it was government-created, or other similar stories. Where Duesberg differs is that he has other ideas on the relation between HIV and AIDS, so we can’t throw him in with that other lot.
So, why does this matter? Well, it’s a sad affair when someone is trying to make revolutionary headway on a disease that affects so many people (cancer), but is not allowed to do so because of his beliefs in a different area (AIDS). Studies and research into aneuploidy aren’t anything new, but with almost no headway made in the cure-for-cancer cause in decades with oncogenes, I wonder why we aren’t focusing more on different ideas. Peter Duesberg might be a cranky old scientists that isn’t popular by any means, but he remains an untapped resource in the fight against cancer.
Jon Schwarzmann is a technology correspondent for Rhombus.
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