By Karen Garloch
The Charlotte Observer, 29 Oct. 1994


To prove his unorthodox belief that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, a Florida doctor Friday pricked his finger with a needle carrying blood that he said was infected with the virus.

"This is not an act of bravery. This is an act of intelligence," said Dr. Robert Willner, who practiced medicine in North Miami Beach for 30 years until his license was revoked last March.

"I'm not afraid of an innocent virus."

Before a gathering of about 30 alternative-medicine practitioners and several journalists, Willner stuck a needle in the finger of Andres, 27, a Fort Lauderdale student who says he has tested positive for HIV. Then, wincing, the 65-year-old doctor stuck himself.

Willner, who says he also injected himself with HIV-infected blood in Spain a year ago, claims to be one of many scientists who now reject the theory that HIV causes AIDS.

"There is absolutely nothing to substantiate that AIDS is a contagious disease. You cannot get it from anyone. You cannot give it to anyone," Willner said.

Most mainstream doctors and scientists reject his ideas, which are similar to those advanced in recent years by Dr. Peter Duesberg, a molecular biologist from the University of California at Berkeley.

"It is absolute nonsense," said Dr. Charles van der Horst, head of the AIDS clinical trials unit at the UNC-Chapel Hill medical school.

Van der Horst said the theory probably stems partly from "old research" that found that not everyone who had AIDS had detectable virus.

"But that was years ago," he said. "Now, we can find gobs of virus in everybody (who has AIDS)," he said.

He and other skeptics questioned how anyone can be sure that Willner really exchanged blood with an HIV-infected patient.

To check, The Observer called Andres's doctor's office in Fort Lauderdale. A receptionist confirmed that he is a patient and that he is HIV-positive.

Willner spoke Friday at a conference sponsored by Nature's Balance, a natural food company, and the NeuroImmuno Therapeutics Research Foundation, a Spartanburg group that advocates the use of alternative therapies, such as ozone and transfer factor, to boost the body's ability to fight disease.

A display in the meeting room trumpeted Willner's new book, "Deadly Deception: The Proof that SEX and HIV Absolutely DO NOT CAUSE AIDS" (Peltec Publishing Co).

With the zeal of a preacher at a tent revival, he spoke in fast, strung-together sentences, jumping from topic to topic as if he had too much to say and too little time.

Instead of HIV, Willner believes AIDS is caused by malnutrition and drug use - both street drugs and prescription drugs, specifically AZT, the first drug to be approved for treatment of patients with AIDS.

He makes an exception for hemophiliacs, who have contracted AIDS in huge numbers. He said their disease is the result of contaminants in factor 8, the agent, made from dozens of blood donations, that hemophiliacs must inject so their blood will clot.

Willner criticized doctors who prescribe AZT and Burroughs Wellcome Co., which manufactures it.

Burroughs Wellcome spokeswoman Kathy Bartlett said AZT has been proven effective against AIDS in "dozens of studies in thousands of patients... It does delay disease progression, and it does enhance the quality of life."

In reaction to arguments by Duesberg and others, Dr. Michael Ascher, acting chief of the virus lab at the California Department of Health Services in Berkeley, published research last year to show that drugs and AZT do not cause AIDS.

His study, published in the journal Nature, involved 1,034 single men selected randomly from San Francisco neighborhoods where AIDS cases were prevalent. The study began in 1984, several years before AZT was approved for use.

Of those studied, 233 had AIDS, but only 169 took AZT. Of that 169, 90 had AIDS before they started taking the drug. Another 51 had extremely low T-cell counts, indicating a very weak immune system, before they started on AZT.

"If he (Willner) tells you that AZT causes AIDS, don't believe it," Ascher said. "That is almost as bad as saying penicillin causes pneumonia, chemotherapy causes cancer or that air bags cause accidents."

Just because an air bag is inflated when a car hits a tree doesn't mean the air bag went off for no reason and caused the accident, Ascher said.

"It's backwards." *