Saturday, May 20, 2006

Did Robert Gallo Kill Isaac Asimov?

"In the spring of 1981 a handful of young men began turning up in the emergency room at the UCLA hospital in West Los Angeles with swollen lymph nodes, a rare type of pneumonia, and highly suppressed T-cell count. Over the next year this was repeated in New York, Washington, and other major US cities, where doctors watched the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome."
So begins Pulitzer Prize-winner John Crewdson's definitive history of the discovery of AIDS and the surrounding scandal in his book Science Fictions: A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Cover-up and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo.

Robert Gallo, the National Cancer Institute researcher originally credited with virtually every important AIDS-related discovery, was revealed as a self-serving huckster who stole his laboratory samples from the Pasteur Institute, faked his scientific papers, and with the complicity of the Reagan administration, kept the US blood supply at risk for the AIDS virus for nearly a decade after the rest of the world had begun valid testing of blood for the AIDS virus. Harold Varmus, head of the National Institutes of Health, described Gallo as a "thug" yet Gallo has won every major award short of the Nobel Prize, and maintains a comfortable sinecure at the University of Maryland to this day.

Gallo made headlines in April 1984 as the "discoverer" of the AIDS virus (the year, incidentally, after the Pasteur Institute's patent filing for its AIDS blood test). Gallo claimed to have devised a test for the presence of the virus and to have mastered the art of growing the virus in the large quantities needed for research. Gallo's “discovery” of the cause of AIDS was the HTLV virus – a purported cancer virus that Gallo had previously (and unsuccessfully) promoted as a cause of leukemia, and that fit well with his proposals for funding and research at the National Cancer Institute. Gallo argued that HTLV had been shown to cause immunosuppression. Gallo's claims (which were rejected by most of the scientific community) were touted by the Reagan political machine, and press releases were packaged to produce optimal belief. Health Secretary Margaret Heckler greeted the press in the National Academy of Sciences auditorium packed with journalists and television crews. She declared that "today we add another miracle to the long honor roll of American medicine and science. Today's discovery represents the triumph of science over a dreaded disease." Gallo's "discovery" was a convenient answer to the chorus of critics who complained that the Reagan administration was doing too little to combat AIDS. Heckler dazzled critics with Gallo's American "miracle " and reminded the public of the gratitude it owed to medicine for triumphing over this "dreaded disease".

Gallo lost no time in making money from his deceit. Under pressure from the Reagan administration, the US Patent Office shut the door on any application for an immunoassay (blood test) patent that did not come from Gallo. The Pasteur Institute made its initial application for a US patent in 1983, but it stalled. Gallo and the US Department of Health applied for a patent on the day of Heckler's announcement. It was granted almost at once. The French cried "Foul!" The public wrangling threatened to undermine the integrity of AIDS science. It was settled by an unprecedented agreement between heads of state (Reagan and Jacques Chirac), which gave a percentage of US royalties on test kits to the French. A detailed report in June 1994 by the Inspector-General of the US Department of Health and Human Services on the issues between Gallo and the Pasteur Institute states that Gallo obtained his patent by unlawfully concealing relevant information from the patent office attorney; that he admitted this unlawful act; that Pasteur scientists were first to discover the AIDS virus, to isolate it successfully from several AIDS patients, to describe it in a scientific article, and to use it to make a diagnostic blood test for antibodies to the AIDS virus.

Thus began a decade of US government backed testing for the cancer virus HTLV in the US blood supply. Gallo's HTLV samples ultimately turned out to be not a leukemia causing virus, but samples of the LAV virus stolen from the Pasteur Institute, and cultured in Gallo's laboratory. All the deception had resulted in US blood tests that were essentially worthless, yet which were the enforced standard for all Red Cross testing (the rest of the world had moved to the Western Blot test recommended by the Pasteur Institute).

And this faulty testing meant that thousands of patients contracted AIDS from tainted blood supplies. Other patients were diagnosed with AIDS when they actually were free of the virus. Some of the misdiagnoses ended tragically in suicide.

In 1983, Isaac Asimov the noted science-fiction writer had triple bypass surgery and received blood transfusions containing HIV. His widow Jeppson Asimov recalled that after his triple bypass "the next day he had a high fever... only years later, in hindsight, did we realize that the post transfusion HIV infection had taken hold." In the mid-1980s, his wife noted that her husband had some AIDS symptoms and brought them to the attention of his internist and cardiologist, who pooh-poohed and refused to test him. He was finally tested in February of 1990, prior to further surgery, when he presented HIV-positive with his T cells half the normal level. The fact of Asimov's AIDS was kept secret at the advice of his physicians.

1983 may have been too early for the Pasteur Institutes blood test to actually have been used in the field. Nonetheless, it existed in 1983, and under the right circumstances could have prevented the science fiction writer from receiving tainted blood. But Gallo's grip on the US medical establishment precluded that. Asimov unfortunately choose to have his operation in New York where he had lived his entire life (he traveled infrequently as he was afraid to fly). In 1983, this decision resulted in his infection; nowhere else in the United States had a higher incidence of HIV in the blood supply than New York at that time.

And this is where Gallo's 'science fictions' may indeed have put an end to Asimov's science fiction. There were many others less well known than Asimov who also sufferred greatly and in many cases died as a consequence of Gallo's frauds.

Real science can be a double edged sword; but false science is never anything but a foul and costly crime. The victims of Robert Gallo's malfeasance should never be forgotten. They remind us that fraud - even in the most abstract realms of science - has real consequences for our day-to-day lives.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, haven't you been sued for slander yet by the great man? Wonder why not...

You don't quite grasp the nettle and say outright that claiming HIV caused AIDS was nonsense, and that Isaac Asimov did not die from the effects of HIV, which are nil, according to the scientific literature. He may have been mismedicated because of the false theory, though.

Perhaps you haven't realized that yet. If you care to explore the latest on that, see

It is not just that Gallo stole the AIDS virus and people got misdiagnosed because of that. The Gallo test is just as good as the Western blot. But it IS true that HIV is not a threat, however much Anthony Fauci of NIAID touts it and bans reporters asking about whether the theory is right or not.

In AIDS, there is less than meets the eye everywhere you look. It is all a relabeling of other problems - drug damage, starvation, TB, and other assaults on the immmune system. Just not HIV, Gallo's real fraud.

They were fighting over a harmless virus.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous BKW said...

Anonymous - you are a first class moron.

That is all

1:44 AM  
Anonymous Kothos said...

You don't mention exactly how Gallo's deception resulted in a useless test... ? If he was working with the actual HIV, but claiming it as his own discovery, why would a test he developed necessarily be less effective than those used in other countries, and why would the Pasteur Institute make a claim on it? I'm just wondering this, is all. Cheers.

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You people obviously do not know the truth this virus was man made in the lab and spread. Across africa as a an attack that went wrong,there is a cure they just won't give it out!these people are not dumb monkeys if they claim they discovered it y haven't they found a cure yet??? U can discover things but not discover a cure? Wow!!!Open your eyes people!

1:55 AM  
Anonymous Anna said...

Anonymous- Why don't you get yourself infected with this harmless virus and prove us all wrong? Even better, make weekly videos and post on YouTube how you feel. It's a win win, if you were right, you'll prove your point, if you were wrong...Well...minus one moron from the face of the earth. Let us know when you begin, so we can all get enough popcorn.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Red Cross also faces responsibility refusing to test blood supplies. Beware when donating.

2:51 AM  

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