- By Robert Matthews & Adrian Humphreys
The Sunday Telegraph and National Post Ontario, Canada 5-18-99
- Note - The first person to go public
with the SV-40 cancer link was Dr. Robert Strecker who did so over 10 years
ago in his landmark expose of HIV and the AIDS epidemic. No article about
SV-40 should appear without his name.
- The mass vaccination campaigns of the
1950s and '60s may be causing hundreds of deaths a year because of a cancer-causing
virus that contaminated the first polio vaccine, according to scientists.
- Known as SV40, the virus came from dead
monkeys whose kidney cells were used to culture the first Salk vaccines.
Doctors estimate that the virus was injected into tens of millions during
the vaccination campaigns, including several million in Canada, before
being detected and screened out in 1963. Those born between 1941 and
1961 are thought to be most at risk of having been infected.
- Now a new study of the effects of SV40
points to evidence that the monkey virus causes a number of human cancers.
It concludes there is "compelling" evidence linking SV40 to
mesothelioma, a once-rare type of lung cancer whose prevalence is rapidly
- Dr. Janet Butel of the Baylor College
of Medicine, Texas, and the lead author of the study, said: "I feel
strongly that research is warranted to determine how common human infections
by SV40 may be, and what factors might predispose individuals to SV40-related
- Her study, published in the Journal
of the National Cancer Institute, also suggests the monkey virus may be
passing from those given the contaminated vaccine to their children, spreading
the cancer risk still further.
- Blood samples analyzed by Dr. Butel
and her colleagues point to the steady spread of the cancer causing virus
in the human population, with 10% of those never exposed directly to the
contaminated vaccine testing positive for SV40.
- But several Canadian scientists are
skeptical and say those immunized during the period in question should
not panic. "I believe SV40 is present in the human population today
and is being spread among individuals by an unknown route," said
- Stephen Vas, a microbiologist at the
University of Toronto, said the link between the vaccine and cancer is
far from a certainty. "This study will be hotly argued. The name
SV40 means it is a 'simian virus' and it is a very controversial topic
whether the simian virus is a cancer-causing virus in humans."
- Said Grant McFadden, a professor of
microbiology and immunology at the University of Western Ontario: "This
idea has been tossed around for years but never shown. The evidence for
it has been lousy."
- And Gregory Dekaban, director of gene
therapy and molecular virology at John P. Robarts Research Institute in
London, Ont., said determining cause and effect of cancer is extremely
difficult. "Just because there is a certain virus present doesn't
mean it is the cause of the cancer." But scientists in Britain said
they are joining an international effort to confirm the findings. According
to Gordon McVie, the director general of the Cancer Research Campaign
in Britain, researchers have so far uncovered evidence linking SV40 to
a number of cancers, including brain tumors and bone cancer. "I've
a feeling that the virus might be implicated in more, such as non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma and prostate cancer," he said.
- The study is also likely to prompt a
rethink by doctors of what happened 40 years ago during the early days
of polio vaccination. Until now, SV40 was regarded as harmless, with
no evidence of long-term health effects emerging in follow-up studies of
those vaccinated. Now it appears these studies may not have been conducted
over a long enough period. New highly sensitive laboratory tests suggest
the presence of SV40 in many different types of human tumor.
- The most startling results center on
mesothelioma, until recently linked primarily to exposure to asbestos.
Studies have found that around 70% of mesothelioma cases test positive
for the SV40 virus. Over the past 30 years, the number of mesothelioma
cases has risen 10-fold, to about 1,000 a year, and is predicted to reach
4,000 early next century. Until now, the increase was blamed on the asbestos
- But the new findings are leading scientists
to suspect that SV40 may account for a substantial number of mesotheliomas.
Dr. Butel said: "The consistent association of SV40 with that tumor
- Dr. Bharat Jasani, a leading expert
on SV40 and mesotheliomas at the University of Wales College of Medicine,
Cardiff, said the new research could bring new hope to hundreds of cancer
patients, as many might be treated by a vaccine that attacks SV40. "We
could think about saving more than 2,000 lives a year from mesothelioma
- and that is good news."
- A spokesman for Britain's Department
of Health said it was aware that SV40 had contaminated early polio vaccines,
but insisted there is no evidence the virus caused tumors.
- Health Canada officials could not be
- Prof. Vas said any concern over cancer
from old versions of the polio vaccine should be mitigated by how many
lives were saved. "If you calculated how many lives would have been
lost if the vaccine hadn't been used you would see the benefits far, far
out-weighed the possible harm. There are no debate over the benefits,
only the possibility it caused harm. But given the fashion of the day,
wouldn't put it beyond the people to sue the government over this."