No Holds Barred

Researchers are planning to debate a controversial theory on the origin of AIDS. The United Kingdom's Royal Society will host a meeting in London in May to explore the contentious idea that HIV entered humans through a contaminated polio vaccine tested in Africa in the 1950s. The thesis, which received a flurry of attention in 1992 following an article in Rolling Stone, last year became a hot topic again when British journalist Edward Hooper published The River, a weighty tome on the subject.

The meeting, proposed by Simon Wain-Hobson, an AIDS researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, will examine the notion that HIV or one of its simian cousins infected the primate cells used to manufacture an oral polio vaccine developed by Hilary Koprowski, then head of the Philadelphia-based Wistar Institute. An independent scientific panel convened by Wistar concluded in 1992 that there was an "extremely low" probability that the theory was correct, but Hooper and other critics say the panel failed to make a convincing case.

Wain-Hobson hopes that if Hooper, Koprowski, and other key players agree to attend the meeting, they can clarify the scientific issues. "Discussion is better than a year's worth of invective delivered at arm's length," Wain-Hobson says.

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