Urnovitz went on to describe the role retrotransposons also may play in other chronic diseases such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Persian Gulf War Syndrome, cancer, neurologic disorders and autoimmune diseases. He discussed his current research efforts, which have shown that retrotransposons may play a role in "archiving" virus fragments as a way of creating "molecular memory."
Urnovitz used post-polio syndrome as an example of how retrotransposons may work. The majority of the 1.63 million Americans who had polio 20 to 40 years ago now suffer from a variety of illnesses described as post-polio syndrome. According to the scientific literature, post-polio syndrome patients have fragments of the polio virus left behind in their nerve tissue. Retrotransposons may have copied these fragments into memory in the form of host DNA (the patient’s own DNA). Although these fragments normally remain benign, an outside "opportunistic" infection or chemical agent may inflame the tissue to produce the virus fragments, igniting the symptoms physicians now refer to as post-polio syndrome — central nervous system disorders, muscle fatigue and joint pain, for example. These types of illnesses have been seen in over a dozen epidemics in the last 60 years. "The result of continually expressed, archived fragments is the presence of white blood cells in tissues. These white blood cells may interfer with cellular and tissue activities thus leading to symptoms such as fatigue."
What may be the source of other "archived" viral fragments in so many people? Clearly, naturally an occuring infection is a likely source. However, Urnovitz went on to describe how polio vaccines (given between 1955 and 1961 in the U.S.) contained low levels of live monkey viruses. "As is commonly known, Americans were given ‘inactivated’ polio vaccines that actually contained up to 26 contaminating monkey viruses.
The viruses were unknowingly introduced into the vaccine because the polio virus was grown in contaminated monkey kidney cells. Many of the new syndromes have some association with the possible contaminants in the vaccine," said Dr. Urnovitz.
It is very likely that HIV-1 may have been a result of the contaminated polio vaccines due to the presence of its precursor, simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV, in the African preparations or as an environmental factor. HIV-1 may in fact be a monkey-human hybrid, part SIV and part normal human gene from the envelope region of a human endogenous retrovirus.
Dr. Raphael Stricker, a leading AIDS physician at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, believes Dr. Urnovitz’s new findings could initiate a major leap forward in understanding immune system diseases. "Dr. Urnovitz has contributed a major missing piece to the mystery of the possible origins of chronic diseases such as AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Gulf War Syndrome. If this theory holds true, it could be as big a discovery as was the link between oncogenes and cancer. We must now examine two new issues: first, whether exposure to contaminated polio vaccines of the late 1950’s is a risk factor in progression from HIV-1 to AIDS and second, whether we should look for ways to minimize the inflammatory response to fragmented viruses."
Dr. Adan Rios, the conference director and another leading AIDS physician, characterized Dr. Urnovitz’s presentation as an example of why he feels the annual conference is so important. "This AIDS conference is designed as an open forum to invite scientific challenges, present new research and ideas as Dr. Urnovitz has done, and most importantly, allow the Houston community to participate in the discourse."
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