Current wisdom on the role of genes in malignancy may not explain some features of cancer, but stepping back to look at the bigger picture inside cells reveals a view that just might
By Peter Duesberg
When I first began to study cancer as a young postdoctoral fellow in the early 1960s, it looked to leading scientists as though viruses could be the cause of most, if not all, malignancies. That idea was based on the discovery of several tumor- and leukemia-producing viruses that could infect a host cell and insert their own genetic material into its genome, sparking a cancerous transformation and proliferation of the cell. I was optimistic and naive enough to hope that if researchers could understand the exact molecular mechanisms by which such viruses caused cancer, we could develop vaccines to eliminate one of humanity’s most dreaded diseases.
My own contribution to that pursuit came in 1970, when my colleagues, Michael Lai and Peter Vogt, and I managed to isolate a speciﬁc gene, src, which was suspected to be the tumor-initiating culprit in avian Rous sarcoma virus. Within a few years, more creative scientiﬁc minds than mine had followed this lead to a realization that a closely related gene was already present in the normal DNA of animals, including humans. And a new cancer model was born: it proposed that some triggering event, such as a mutation in a human cell’s own version of src, could ignite tumorigenic powers like those possessed by its viral counterpart. The cancer-promoting potential of such a time bomb buried in our personal genomes earned it the title of “proto-oncogene.” Once the mutation occurred, it would become a full-ﬂedged oncogene. [Continued]
Of course no mainstream publication by Peter can escape the requisite disclaimer, so that even this Scientific American article is compelled to contain the following box:
Editor's Note: The author, Peter Duesberg, a pioneering virologist, may be well known to readers for his assertion that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. The biomedical community has roundly rebutted that claim many times. Duesberg’s ideas about chromosomal abnormality as a root cause for cancer, in contrast, are controversial but are being actively investigated by mainstream science. We have therefore asked Duesberg to explain that work here. This article is in no sense an endorsement by SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN of his AIDS theories.
Yet even here, the editors might have more accurately written "rejected" for "rebutted", particularly given their perspicacity in publishing his cancer thinking, which for more than a decade was ridiculed by mainstream cancer researchers as vehemently as his despised "AIDS theories".
And in-so-far as we have been presented with this unexpected Friday the 13th treat, maybe we can also wonder "out loud" (so to speak) whether the NIH might now actually fund one of Prof. Duesberg's numerous, rejected-out-of-hand grant applications to test the aneuploidy (chromosomal chaos) theory (in the classic, ie, pre-biotechnology cum bio-media unholy union, sense) of cancer's genetic roots.
[Here is an editorial from the issue that relates to much of the above as well as Prof. Strohman's comment. And here is as serious a refutation of any claims that Prof. Duesberg has been "rebutted" in the scientific literature as is possible, since it enables any who can read the material to make a completely independent determination as to the substance behind Duesberg's claim that the scientific literature itself disproves each and every aspect and prediction of the virus-AIDS hypothesis.]