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Dr. Robert Gallo Reflects on 30 Years Since Announcing HIV as the Cause of AIDS

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gallo-NCI photo 1985.JPG
 Dr. Robert C. Gallo at the National Cancer Institute in 1985
 

HIV Co-discoverer hopeful for HIV cure and vaccine, focuses on global preparedness for new viral threats

BALTIMORE--Today marks 30 years since Robert C. Gallo, MD, director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and scientific director of the Global Virus Network (GVN), and his colleagues announced during an April 23, 1984 press conference their discovery of the agent causing AIDS – a retrovirus later to be known as HIV – and the development of the HIV blood test. Since the first reports of AIDS, 36 million have died from AIDS and today an estimated 35 million live with HIV while more than 1.5 million still die annually from the disease despite effective drug therapy innovations. Researchers are closer than ever to a functional cure and preventive vaccine.

“I believe the field is close to a functional cure for AIDS, but not a virological cure, or total elimination of HIV from the body,” said Dr. Robert Gallo. “A functional cure refers to an HIV infected person who could keep the virus suppressed with evidence that the person wouldn’t ever need to take antiretroviral drug therapy anymore.” He continued, “While there are difficult basic science research challenges that need to be solved, I also believe an effective and safe HIV preventive vaccine is doable, and I hope supporters continue to provide us the resources necessary to solve this herculean and important problem.“

In 1996 Dr. Gallo co-founded the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) with colleagues William Blattner, MD and Robert Redfield, MD. The Baltimore-based Institute treats more than 500,000 HIV positive individuals in 7 African and 2 Caribbean nations in addition to more than 5,000 HIV positive Baltimoreans. IHV is internationally renowned for its basic science research, which includes the search for a functional cure and a promising preventive HIV vaccine candidate funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Oftentimes I get asked the question, ‘what were the lessons learned during the early years of the AIDS crisis,’” said Dr. Gallo. “Among other things, there was not an organized global approach to solving the cause of AIDS. No authority directed my lab – the lab that had just discovered retroviruses in man – to investigate the cause of this new disease that was very much looking like a human retrovirus. It was only on a whim that I happened to hear of the early infections and symptoms from clinicians and more importantly from a NIH lecture from James Curran, then at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that I postulated with my friend Max Essex at Harvard that the cause might be a retrovirus, and ultimately directed my lab resources towards researching the new disease. “

In response to this experience, Dr. Gallo and his two colleagues, William Hall, MD, PhD, director of the Centre for Research in Infectious Diseases at University College Dublin, Ireland and the late Reinhard Kurth, PhD, then-Chairman of the Ernst Schering Foundation in Berlin, Germany in 2011 co-founded the Global Virus Network (GVN). “Our intention was to create the kind of safety net of leading medical virologists that did not exist when HIV first emerged,” said Dr. Gallo. “Today, we have this safety net in place, with GVN scientists collaborating and communicating. The global community is therefore better prepared to tackle viral diseases of all kinds.” GVN’s mission is to combat current and emerging pandemic viral threats through international collaborative research, training the next generation of medical virologists, and advocacy. GVN is a non-profit organization comprised of top medical virologists from more than 20 countries covering expertise in every class of human virus causing disease.

For more information on IHV please visit www.ihv.org and on GVN please visit www.gvn.org.