Inquiry launched into Aids claims inquiry begins

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The Independent Online
Manchester University yesterday launched an inquiry into claims that scientific research purporting to prove the world's oldest ``confirmed'' case of Aids was false.

The university said it intended to repeat research carried out by US scientists that has cast doubt over whether David Carr, a Manchester man who died in 1959, was infected with HIV.

As reported exclusively in the Independent yesterday, Professor David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond Aids Research Centre in New York, failed to find HIV in tissue samples supplied to him by Dr George Williams, who performed the post-mortem examination on Carr in 1959.

Professor Ho also found that this tissue came from a different person to material sent to him earlier by the Manchester researchers. Professor Ho had found HIV in this earlier material, which was the same tissue used in the 1990 research published in the Lancet.

Professor James Burnie, professor of medical microbiology at the university and senior consultant at the Central Manchester Healthcare Trust, said: ``Obviously we are concerned about Dr Ho's claims and we have faxed him today asking him to send samples of the tissue he used for his tests. Once these arrive we will, naturally, re-run the tests and also run tests from the original tissue we hold here.''

Professor Burnie insisted that nothing had invalidated the 1990 research: ``There is no doubt the original findings as reported in the Lancet in July 1990 were correct. We have already carried out an informal inquiry which has validated this.''

The research, co-authored by Dr Williams, concluded that ``the patient who died in Manchester in 1959 ... had HIV infection". Professor Ho, however, failed to find HIV in tissue from the patient using the most sensitive technology available.

Another co-author, Dr Gerald Corbitt, was yesterday ban-ned from talking to the press by Central Manchester Healthcare Trust. Before the gag was imposed he told the Independent that Professor Ho had raised serious questions about the accuracy of the research. ``The results we produced are clearly invalid. We're left a little deflated and rather annoyed at the moment because we're not sure quite what has been going on here.''

One of the first experiments Professor Burnie intends to run is an HLA test - which distinguishes one person from another - on tissue returned by Professor Ho and the stored tissue of Carr. Professor Burnie said this would ``tell us the chain of events in this whole affair to see if we can confirm Professor Ho's results''. A British Aids researcher, Robin Weiss, professor of viral oncology at the Institute of Cancer Research, said he had written to Manchester University offering to perform the tissue tests with techniques his laboratory uses every day.

The tissue mystery, page 2