Infectious Disease Postdoc/Clinician
Department of Pediatrics, University Hospital, Syracuse, NY
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Mr Russell makes several statements as if they are truisms, when they are not.
"Contrary to Bennett’s claim, Etienne de Harven's methodology is far more rigorous at isolation/purification of virus than other methods and all other indirect surrogate markers which are non-specific."
Firstly it is not "my" claim, but a simple fact and a well known problem with most oncoretroviruses. The transforming virus is usually defective and requires a replication competant helper virus - structurally indistinguishable, and therefore requiring molecular methods in other to differentiate the mixture. The De Harven viruses have been clearly demonstrated to be mixtures by various experiments, whereas those of HIV contain only a single type of nucleic acid. The very fact that the genome CAN be sequenced is proof enough, because the di-deoxy chain-termination method and subsequent gel electrophoresis very easily detects mixed samples (as any unlucky graduate student or postdoc will attest).
Secondly the molecular methods are far from non-specific. By their very nature, DNA and antibody-based detection methods are extraordinarily accurate.
"If you have to amplify the putative 'HIV' in the first place by using PCR to show that it is there at all then there was obviously not enough 'virus' present to have any pathogenic relevance or even an infectious relevance. "
The conclusions doesn't follow at all - I repeat my request for Mr Russell to show high peripheral titers of other pathogenic viruses such as influenza, rabies, HPV etc. Lymph node titers are around 10-100 fold higher than those in peripheral blood, and there is clear evidence that sufficient virus is there to cause disease (Pantaleo et al found up to 10% of all lymph node cells infected with HIV, of which only some will actually be CD4 T cells). Ho et al found 3,500 tissue-culture infectious doses of HIV per milliliter of peripheral blood. How much HIV would Mr Russell like?
PCR is an aid, not a last resort.
HIV has certainly been isolated to extraordinary levels of purity from lab cultures of peripheral blood and lymph nodes. Since culture is a well used technique applied throughout virology and bacteriology, why should it not be applied here to aid in detection? If there is enough virus to culture, then clearly there is enough to be infectious and potentially pathogenic!
De Harven for example performed plasma-derived virus detection after injecting leukemic spleens into a particular mouse strain. Hardly an appropriate model for a natural virus infection! Most of the structural work he performed was on cultured virus, although I do admire the clarity of the EM's he did acquire from some peripheral samples. Perhaps if we were to inject an inbred human strain with high doses of lymph node cultures of HIV we might achieve the same kind of electron micrographs. De Harven's standard plasma protocol used virus obtained within 4-10 days post innoculation, in exactly the same timeframe as Gelderblom was asking for with his HIV experiments.
The only problem present here is Mr Russell's personal opinion on what constitutes good science. Nothing more. What he criticises is only aimed at HIV, and doesn't take into account any kind of background general virological techniques. There have been almost identical EM's published of HIV in semen  as have been seen with sexually transmitted murine retroviruses . Would this be possible in Mr Russell's world view of HIV?
Nick Bennett email@example.com
1. Baccetti et al J Cell Biol. 1994 Nov;127(4):903-14. "HIV-particles in spermatozoa of patients with AIDS and their transfer into the oocyte."
2. Portis et al J Virol. 1987 Apr;61(4):1037-44. "Horizontal transmission of murine retroviruses."
Competing interests: None declared