Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic

September 11-12, 2000, The Royal Society, London, United Kingdom

Jonathan Weber, FRCP, FRCPath, FmedSci, Keith Alcorn, Medical Writer

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In This Article

Introduction

The Royal Society's discussion meeting on the origins of HIV and the AIDS epidemic was organized by Simon Wain-Hobson of the Pasteur Institute and Robin Weiss of the Windeyer Institute, University College Hospital Medical School, London. The third organizer of the meeting, the evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, died earlier in 2000 after contracting malaria during an expedition to the Congo to capture chimpanzees for simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) testing. Hamilton was interested in testing the hypothesis -- brought to widespread attention by the publication of journalist Edward Hooper's book The River in 1999 -- that the emergence of the HIV could be attributed to the inadvertent transfer of SIVcpz into humans by an oral polio vaccine (OPV) developed in monolayer cultures of kidney cells from infected chimpanzees. However, the Royal Society meeting was more than just a debate between OPV developers and proponents of the OPV transfer theory. It also reviewed much of the evidence for the theory that SIVcpz entered humans as a result of routine interspecies contact -- the so-called natural transfer or "cut hunter" theory -- and offered a compelling case for why the origins of HIV are of more than academic interest. The meeting was also a vindication of the courage of the Royal Society to call a public discussion meeting to bring together a scientific panel with investigative journalists and other commentators on the origin of AIDS.

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