Testimony of Howard B. Urnovitz, Ph.D. (1/24/02)
U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on National
Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations
Howard B. Urnovitz,
Ph.D. -- 01/24/2002
I am grateful to the
Subcommittee for allowing me the opportunity to present my views on Gulf War
Syndrome or GWS. My name is Dr. Howard B. Urnovitz. I received my doctorate
degree in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Michigan in
1979. My entire CV is submitted with my written testimony. I currently hold
the position of Scientific Director of the Chronic Illness Research
Foundation as well as my current position as Chief Executive and Science
Officer of Chronix Biomedical, a privately-held genomics company. I receive
no government grants or support for my work.
The Subcommittee has asked me to testify on the status GWS research. My reply
is simple: We have reached a stalemate. My purpose of being here today is to
In my last
testimony to this Subcommittee, on February 2, 2000, I pointed out that
the human genome appeared to play a critical role in GWS. In fact, I
testified that the major opportunity GWS presents to medical science is that
neither a single bacterium nor a virus could be blamed for the illness. I
have stated repeatedly in public for the past several years that the
mycoplasma causal theory for GWS was based on poorly conducted research and
the claims had never been validated. Finally, an excellent controlled scientific
study has put this matter to rest. I will state again for the record what
I believe to be the basis of GWS: it is the genome, not the germs.
So why is there a stalemate?
The letter from the Pentagon included in the GAO Report (GAO-01-13, April
2001) cautioned the authors of the report not to be "hasty" in
drawing the conclusion that there might be fewer health complaints from the
French troops. This letter indicated to me that the military continues to
take what I would call a "denial of the clues" position. Denying or
refusing to recognize scientific clues, controlled studies (including ours)
and even facts about GWS has created this stalemate, a stalemate that has
implications bigger than the disease itself. These denials are manifestations
of the weaknesses of large-scale, government-funded research. This weakness
delays any and all attempts to treat GWS veterans and hinders any and all
attempts for a medical defense against the next generation of chemical,
biological and radiation terrorist weapons.
What is the source of this "denial of clues" position with regard
to GWS and other medical mysteries? I believe it is the US Department of
Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is the largest and most powerful medical
research entity in the world today. It strongly influences the financing,
communication, and priorities of the world's medical research agenda,
including military medicine. Its Fiscal Year 2001 budget was $429 billion.
In my opinion, this agency is completely out of control because of, in part,
its continued violations of medical ethics.
I argue that the response of the entire federal health establishment to
recent acts of bioterrorism constitutes a violation of medical ethics.
Despite ample evidence from military usage over the last decade that the
existing anthrax vaccine is highly reactive with possible deleterious
long-term health effects, the October 2001 terrorist attack that employed
mailed anthrax spores triggered an extremely questionable reaction from the
Health and Human Services Department and its Centers for Disease Control and
Both HHS and CDC made the still unlicensed vaccine available to potentially
exposed postal workers and congressional staffers not as an immunization, but
as a treatment supplemental to antibiotics - without a scintilla of
scientific evidence that such inoculations could help prevent the disease in
exposed individuals. Even the HHS and CDC officials responsible refused to
recommend the workers actually take the shots. In the fields of advertising,
public relations, and political speech writing, this approach is sometimes
called the "The Spaghetti Theorem" - throw an untried idea against
the wall and see if it sticks. It has no place in science or medicine.
And now we learn from the CDC-authored informed consent documents for such
civilian shots that the anthrax vaccine may be connected to birth defects if
the inoculation is given during pregnancy. The data come from a preliminary
Navy study still under review. So far the Pentagon has refused to provide
Further, we now have learned from the October 23, 2001, GAO report "Anthrax Vaccine: Changes to
the Manufacturing Process" that the FDA has blatantly turned a blind eye
in its oversight and surveillance of the Bioport anthrax production facility.
A less recognized yet more flagrant medical ethics violation by HHS is its
endorsement and defense of the so-called "Durban
Declaration." Ironically, the Durban Declaration memorialized 20
years of frustration and failure by the AIDS research community to
successfully treat the disease by eliminating the associated virus, HIV, with
either drugs or vaccines. The Declaration claims to be based on an exhaustive
medical literature. But this literature is substantially comprised of
opinions, poorly conducted studies, and reviews of poorly conducted studies.
Instead of using the milestone of 20 years as a "call to arms" to
encourage novel and non-traditional research approaches, 93 HHS employees
from agencies including the NIH, FDA and CDC, published a declaration in the
journal Nature stating that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS and that the
scientific debate is closed. As a scientist, I was outraged to see such a
declaration which seems totally at odds with the tradition of the scientific
Here is what lies ahead for people who suffer from emerging chronic diseases
like GWS and AIDS as well as for efforts to protect the population at large
from mad cow disease and chemical and biological terrorism. Rather than
recognizing and reporting on the failures to cure, prevent, or successfully
treat a disease, HHS scientists will continue to deny that billions of
taxpayer dollars and decades of medical research has yielded little or no
progress in the understanding of chronic syndromes. Yet, they will publish
documents that will mandate how future medical research should and should not
be conducted. Scientific journals will publish these documents and imply that
they are scientific in nature. Mainstream media, without asking any hard
questions, will then distribute the information to the general population and
label all who challenge the documents as "dissidents."
Label us what you want, but misrepresentations are misrepresentations. We
continue to use the Internet to describe our scientific position. You can
view our correspondence with the HHS on our website, www.chronicillnet.org
(Government Relations). It asks how HHS scientists can take the position that
a virus is the sole cause of AIDS based on opinions, poorly conducted studies
and reviews of poorly conducted studies.
By allowing its 93 employees, all of whom are ostensibly public servants, to
abuse their powerful government positions by signing the Durban Declaration,
HHS has signaled the American people that it will permit its scientists to
take a public position on unsolved medical problems instead of finding the
answers through rigorous research. Research into GWS is directly affected by
these unethical practices. How?
Exemplified by the Durban Declaration, the American medical science complex
is unwilling to accept and, in fact, vigorously opposed to the idea that
epidemics and disease clusters can happen without a single microbe as the
prime causative agent. The original successes of Pasteur and Koch in the late
1800's with a select number of bacterial maladies do not hold true for all
diseases, especially the chronic diseases. This "one
size fits all" single-germ approach of medical science is why
diseases like GWS, childhood paralysis, and AIDS have not been conquered. By
allowing HHS to mandate how science will be conducted, a clear government
sanction has been established. This sanction will prevent the discovery and
innovative research needed to attack the tough medical issues we face today.
Allow me to give you an example of why the "one size fits all"
approach does not work for chronic illnesses. For 100 years, since
Landsteiner and Popper transmitted poliomyelitis from a boy to a laboratory
animal, every doctor in the world will tell you that the childhood paralysis
was caused by a single entity called the poliovirus and can be completely
stopped by polio vaccine. The chronicillnet.org web site has posted a
detailed special report questioning why the polio vaccine has not eliminated childhood
paralysis world-wide and even challenging medical researchers to produce
the hard science to show if there was ever was a poliovirus epidemic.
Diseases cannot be conquered if scientists refuse to admit they are wrong, go
back into the laboratory, and work until they find the truth.
This astonishing abuse of the scientific method by political scientists has
led us to the stalemate we are in today. Clearly, science has been trapped in
similar stalemates before. In the 1600's, Galileo, equipped with a new
invention, the telescope, was able to confirm Copernicus' heliocentric theory
that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the reverse. The political
system and religious institutions of the time made sure Galileos ideas,
teachings and writings were suppressed. Galileo was
charged by the Inquisition with heresy and sentenced to house arrest for
life. It took hundreds of years for scientific fact to overturn political
opinion. We are facing the Galileo effect today in medicine.
What are the implications of our current stalemate?
The world cannot defend itself against biological/chemical/radiation
terrorism until this stalemate is brought to an end. The single-germ-theory
will not allow science to define the genomic conditions necessary to render
an individual susceptible to a disease process. Terrorists will soon learn
how to make their next move so that the weapons become more effective. Our
next move has to be the development of medications that can focus and
strengthen the genomic reaction to toxic injury. The current scientific
stalemate prevents us from making this type of progress. We cannot take this
critical next move because the stalemate has you believing that vaccines and
conventional antibiotics are the way to stop terrorism even though none of
the data I have seen support this claim.
Scientific Revolution Tactics: Where Do We Go From Here?
I would like to go on record stating that the single-germ-theory as the cause
of chronic diseases will disappear once scientists learn the proper use of
their new "telescope," i.e. genomics.
I am sure you have heard about the power of genomics, but even in this
brand-new discipline we have a stalemate created by scientists trying to cram
square pegs into round holes. Most genomic scientists want you to believe
that diseases occur as a result of mutations in the genes that make proteins.
Nature is telling you that many of the major diseases are not in the protein
coding genes but in what are misleadingly referred to as the "junk"
DNA. A quarter-century ago, I began my doctoral research in a lab that
studied how to create
poliomyelitis in mice without any poliovirus: by manipulating the junk
DNA with toxic chemicals or radiation. GWS has convinced me that these same
interactions of toxic exposures and chronic diseases occur in humans as well.
So, the clues are now telling us that the cause of chronic diseases is the
JUNK genome, not the germs.
Who is listening to me?
I predicted in my last testimony to this Subcommittee that GWS research would
lead to medical breakthroughs in all areas of chronic disease research. I
subsequently chose to study a disease that would have commercial implications
so as to raise investment capital to prove my point. In less than 3 months'
time and with only one other scientist, we are now validating a new test for
Mad Cow Disease that does not require the cow to be killed before testing.
Our test looks at the same genomic elements I found in GWS veterans. I am
confident that the validation of this test will prove the positive predictive
value of blood junk gene tests and have enormous value in protecting the food
supply and human health.
It is unfortunate, due to the stalemate, that this genomics test probably
will never be used in GWS research. The April 2001 GAO report on GWS has
clearly outlined the obvious study that should be done: use a variation of
the genomics test on the Persian Gulf War vets, deployed and non-deployed,
from the US, UK and France. If the French soldiers truly have a lower
incidence of GWS, the genomics test will confirm it. The follow-up studies
can then refine the testing procedures so that treatment options can be
judged against a soon to be validated laboratory marker.
How do we break out of this stalemate? Let me share some of my thoughts.
First, if science and government wish to continue any kind of responsible
partnership, a new paradigm must be developed. It must allow scientific and
public discourse on fresh research ideas, even if they contradict long-held
Second, the federal structure must end the de facto government sanctions that
exist as a result of an inherent bias toward "maverick" research --
defined as any study that contradicts the conventional wisdom that germs
cause all infectious diseases and ignores an avalanche of findings about the
human genome. It's the genes, not the germs.
Third, we must leave behind a dim decade of "denying clues" that
has not only deprived Gulf War veterans a possible pathway out of illness,
but even worse has established a template of refusal to consider almost any
new ideas on any medical subject. We must not continue to allow stale dogma
to trash true science.
I am certain we will overcome this stalemate. Scientific discovery and new
treatment modalities will prevail. Results-minded researchers will go to the
private sector, as the global marketplace is proving.
The role of Congress should be to do what it does best -- keep the pressure
on. As you are all-too-aware, we are engaged in a long-term war that involves
hideous brands of terrorism, invasions of our homeland for the first time in
187 years, and a life-and-death necessity to realize: We don't have years to
change the way we protect our troops and our people against chemical and
biological warfare -- at best, we have months. You will never be able to
protect the citizens of this country if HHS is not held accountable for its
actions that continue to discourage scientific discovery in the ways I have
In conclusion, I want to thank this Subcommittee for its leadership in trying
to understand the complexities surrounding the treatment of GWS. I also want
to thank the staff of the GAO for its first class reports on GWS related
issues as well as calling them as they see them.
I again thank the Subcommittee for recognizing the contributions I have made
to the GWS medical literature and for my modest attempt at trying to keep the
scientific debates open.
I ask that the full text of my statement be submitted for inclusion in the
record of the hearing.