September 07, 2017

Retroviruses: Poorly Understood Agents of Change

Investigating the alarming rise of chronic inflammatory diseases

By Judy A. Mikovits, PhD

Chronic inflammatory diseases have been skyrocketing in incidence in the past quarter century. The details explaining how retroviruses in today’s biological therapeutics including vaccines are contributing to autoimmune, neuroimmune disease and cancer are complex. Although I’ve spent my adult lifetime studying how retroviruses contribute to these diseases, paring down the complexities into basics is a daunting task.

In our book, Plague, Kent Heckenlively and I detailed the science and cover up surrounding my team’s 2009 discovery of a new family of human retroviruses related to mouse leukemia viruses, associated not only with cancer but with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In Plague, my coauthor and I detail the science behind the discovery. Scientific research is not simply a study set in a defined space or time, but a lifetime of detailed observation and learning—a lifetime of forming hypotheses and modifying those hypotheses as technology and learning inform new discovery. Science is never settled as we learn each day and discover things that were once considered impossible.

However, science in the 21st century is more complex than ever in human history. Kent Heckenlively is a sixth-grade science teacher. In order to tell my story in a way everyone could understand, who better than a sixth-grade science teacher to help explain the intricacies? Or so we thought. The reviews of Plague include one from a doctor who said the science was “too complex.” As this is such a critical topic in human heath, I want to make it as simple as possible so that everyone can understand.

What are retroviruses?

Retroviruses are classified in a group of RNA viruses called RNA tumor viruses. They are called “retro” because they only have an RNA genome and function differently than other viruses.  In most viruses, DNA is transcribed (or written) into RNA, then RNA is translated into protein. Retroviruses, on the other hand, work differently.  A retrovirus works by reverse transcribing, that is “writing backwards” into DNA by using an enzyme only retroviruses encode called, “Reverse Transcriptase” (RT). The DNA form of the virus is called a provirus. The provirus is then inserted into the DNA of the host using another enzyme encoded exclusively by retroviruses called “Integrase”. (IN). Integrase cuts open the DNA and then pastes the provirus into the cellular DNA where the provirus lives for the life of the cell.

In addition to RT and IN, retroviruses encode a few other key genes important to make a virus particle called a virion. The envelope gene called env and gag encode the proteins that form an envelope and capsid, which surrounds the RNA genome. The RNA genomes of retroviruses are between seven and twelve thousand bases (7-12 kilobases, kb). The human genome contains approximately three billion base pairs. (RNA is single stranded, while DNA is double stranded, hence “base pairs.”)

A retrovirus virion is approximately 100 nanometers (nM) in size and can only be seen by an electron microscope. The electron micrograph (EM) of the gamma retrovirus we isolated from human blood in 2009 is shown below:

EM of Gamma Retrovirus

Importantly, the provirus cannot be made into an infectious viral particle without using the machinery of a dividing cell. This is illustrated in the dark parts of the membrane of the cell where the virus is budding out of the cell taking the lipids from the cell membrane to complete the virion.

Here, there, and everywhere 

Essentially, all animals have retroviruses integrated in their genomes. Birds, monkeys, cows, pigs, cats, dogs, mice and fish all have retroviruses encoded in their genomes; even plants have retroviruses. Vertebrate genomes harbor thousands of endogenous retrovirus (ERV) elements that display a structure close to that of the integrated proviral form of exogenous retroviruses (gag-, pol-, and env-related regions flanked by 2 LTRs) but the genes are mutated so that they are thought not to be able to produce and release infectious particles. That is, ERVs most likely are the remnants of past infections of the germline by ancestral retroviruses which have been crippled by the immune system of the host. This means that the retroviral genes are defective and no longer release infectious particles. As much as 15% of the human genome is made up of ERV human retroviruses.

In animals, exogenous retroviruses are responsible for some of the deadliest diseases known. Yet, it wasn’t until 1980 when Poiesz and Ruscetti isolated the first human disease-causing retrovirus, then called Human T-cell Leukemia Virus as it was shown to cause an aggressive cancer called Adult T-cell leukemia (ATL). In fact, when my mentor and colleague of 35 years, Frank Ruscetti, joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1975 to study human disease causing exogenous retroviruses, he was told by NCI scientist John M. Coffin not to bother as they did not exist.

Although retroviruses have been an important part of human evolution as the placenta evolved from ancestral retroviral envelope genes 25-40 million years ago, envelope genes from both exogenous and endogenous retroviruses, aberrantly expressed in humans, have been shown to be responsible for the development of many chronic diseases. The incidence rates of these diseases are skyrocketing in 21st century America and include prostate cancer, breast cancer, leukemia lymphoma, multiple sclerosis, and amyotropic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gherig’s disease).

Expression and mode of development 

Many factors are important in the development of diseases associated with retroviruses. The expression and mode of transmission are keys to disease development. We have learned a great deal about the types of diseases from 40 years of study of the mechanisms of disease development from animal and human retroviruses. The two main modes of retrovirus transmission are shown schematically below:

Retrovirus transmission

In mitotic transmission, the provirus is dormant or defective and the integrated proviral form of exogenous retroviruses (gag-, pol-, and env-related regions flanked by 2 LTRs) are not expressed. In this case only the daughter cells carry the retroviral genes and if not expressed these endogenous or exogenous retroviral genes remain dormant for years and do not usually contribute to disease until much later in life as the immune system weakens. During infectious transmission, the complete virion is produced with many thousands of virions infecting many neighboring cells and spreading from person to person—both cell free and cell associated—via blood and body fluids. Infectious transmission of HIV drove the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s including transmission from infected cells in a contaminated blood supply and the activation of dormant retroviruses by heavy metals, co-infections and inappropriate vaccination of HIV infected individuals.

Xenograft approaches commonly used since the 1950s in studies of human cancer, autoimmune, and neuroimmune disease promote the evolution of novel retroviruses with pathogenic properties. We now appreciate that it is the use of xenograft technologies in the development of vaccines and biological drugs and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have accelerated the spread of animal retroviruses into humans, a process known as zoonosis, whereby an animal retrovirus jumps species, learning to evade immune mechanisms of humans and thereby causing disease. 

The rotavirus vaccine’

Looking at the excipient list of vaccines, we can quickly see that every vaccine may be contaminated with at least one animal retrovirus family, all of which have been associated with cancers, chronic liver disease, AIDS, ALS, ME/CFS and autism.

As just one example among hundreds of retrovirus contamination of vaccines, take a look at the history of the rotavirus vaccine. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) convened a panel of experts to review findings that rotavirus vaccines given to infants in the U.S., Rotateq, produced by Merck Pharmaceuticals and Rotarix produced by Glaxo Smith Kline, are contaminated with pig viruses. Rotarix, an orally administered rotavirus vaccine, contained nucleic acids from porcine circovirus-1 (PCV1) virus and RotaTeq has been shown to contain nucleic acids from both PCV1 and PCV2, a pathogen in pigs that is associated with wasting and immunodeficiency. While acknowledging that the entire short and long-term risks from the porcine circoviruses PCV1 and PCV2 are as yet unknown, the advisory panel decided that “the benefits of the vaccine trumps its risks.”

While the technology to detect genetic contaminates in vaccines was not available until relatively recently, the dangers of generating new viruses and bacteria that can cause diseases were foreseen by the pioneers of genetic engineering. Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) refers to the direct uptake and incorporation of genetic material from unrelated species, in this instance from adventitious viral contaminants in live viral vaccines, into a human host or a host-related bacterium such as those colonizing the gut.

Unlike chemical pollutants which break down and become diluted out, retroviral nucleic acids are infectious, they can invade cells and genomes, multiply, mutate and recombine indefinitely. Potential hazards of HGT of free nucleic acids include the generation of new viruses and bacteria that can cause disease, spreading drug and antibiotic resistance genes among viral and bacterial pathogens making infections untreatable, random insertion into genomes of cells resulting in harmful effects including cancer and reactivation of dormant viruses, present in all cells and genomes, which may cause disease.

Research demonstrates that the pathogenic potential of PCV Type 2 to cause an AIDS-like disease in pigs is unleashed when there is simultaneous immune system activation (e.g. concurrent vaccination) in these animals. Thus, the concurrent inoculation of rotavirus vaccine contaminated with PCV Type 2 DNA sequences along with DTaP, Hib, PCV, IPV and Hep B, as currently recommended by ACIP, provides a high-risk scenario for disease in humans.

PCV Type 2 is a lymphotropic virus that infects primary lymphoid tissues. Its detection in lymphoid tissue of exposed (vaccinated) children should be the focus of urgent investigations, yet relatively few people are aware of the risks. Such tissue is available in the form of intestinal biopsies from children with a variety of conditions including autism. Lymphatic tissue is also available from rhesus macaques exposed to the current vaccine schedule as part of ongoing safety studies. These tissues should be screened using the same metagenomic and pan-microbial array technology used by Victoria et al to identify adventitious sequences in vaccines.

Every cell line or animal tissue used to manufacture any biological including vaccines must first be cleared of all endogenous viruses in order to prevent the zoonotic transmission of retroviruses to humans and make them safe. Receiving one or two injections of an adventitious retrovirus likely does little damage to a healthy immune system. However, the aggressive vaccine schedule currently in place means that the number of retroviruses injected into infants, children, and teenagers—including at vulnerable/immune compromised times in their lives—is unknown.  Combining vaccines, each of which could be carrying HERVs, BLVs, Foamy Viruses, EBV, mycoplasma and potentially more while the immune system is already crippled by mercury, aluminum, polysorbate 80 and formaldehyde is a dangerous and even deadly practice.

Where do we go from here? 

In the past two decades, my research team and others have identified viral sequences proteins and isolated viruses similar to mouse leukemia viruses, mouse mammary tumor viruses, bovine leukemia viruses, simian immunodeficiency viruses, gibbon ape leukemia viruses from human blood, saliva, cells, and cell lines. As we detail in chapter five of Plague, the scientific community failed to heed the 1953 warning of Dr. G. Stuart, when he spoke to the World Health Organization. He was talking about the yellow fever vaccine at that time. He stated:

Two main objections to this vaccine have been voiced, because of the possibility that (i) the mouse brain employed in its preparation may be contaminated with a virus pathogenic for man although latent in mice … Or may be the cause of a demyelinating encephalomyelitis; (ii) the use, as an antigen, or a virus with enhanced neurotropic properties may be followed by serious reactions involving the central nervous system.

In 1996, Dr. John Coffin, that same virologist who told Dr. Frank Ruscetti not to bother studying disease causing human retroviruses because they didn’t exist, warned against transplanting cells from animals into humans to improve the functioning of the immune system of HIV-AIDS patients. According to Dr. Coffin:

The infection is a virtually inevitable consequence of xenotransplantation and this is a very serious worry because the animals that have been chosen for doing this — the baboon and the pig — are both known to carry endogenous viruses, replication competent, but very poorly studied, that are capable of infecting human cells.

And yet, in 2017, vaccines which Coffin, the FDA, and the CDC admit are contaminated with avian retroviruses, mouse retroviruses, pig retroviruses, bovine leukemia viruses, monkey retroviruses and human endogenous retroviruses are mandated by law to be injected into infants and the elderly. As Dr. Sherri Tenpenny wrote more than a decade ago:

If shots that contain stray viruses were only given once in a lifetime, perhaps they would be of little consequence. But flu shots are now recommended – even required – for everyone, from infants to the elderly. Could retroviruses and other viruses be incorporated into the human genome without detection, leading to health problems throughout life?…The risk from avian contaminant viruses has substantially increased since 2004, when the influenza vaccine was added to the pediatric schedule, now starting at six months of age. Extra doses of flu vaccine were administered to children and adults during the bird flu and swine flu pandemic scares, the results of which may not be known for years. Are viruses from chickens and cows being incorporated into the human genome?

We extend Dr. Tenpenny’s alarming questions with knowledge of another family of exogenous human retroviruses, the murine related retroviruses which have now been confirmed in more than 6% of Americans and most likely entered humans via vaccines, and a contaminated blood supply causing the very diseases Dr. Stuart hypothesized. We ask, “Can the MMR vaccine containing avian/chicken retroviruses recombine with mouse sequences passed down from our parents (found in their polio vaccines) to produce a hybrid retrovirus or hybrid sequences?

Are we altering the genes of future generations in unknown ways through vaccines?

What’s coming through that needle can, indeed, be deadly.


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