New Book Portrays HIV Co-Discoverer Gallo as a ‘Megalomaniac’ Whose Errors Cost Lives
The new book "Science Fictions: A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Cover-up and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo" by Chicago Tribune journalist John Crewdson makes the case that HIV co-discoverer Dr. Robert Gallo's resistance to criticism and his hesitancy to acknowledge the work of other researchers led to the loss of lives and "years of opportunity that, perhaps, could have led to cures and therapies to fight AIDS so much sooner," Cheryl Clark, a medical and health writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, writes in a Union-Tribune review. Crewdson's book portrays Gallo's road to discovery of HIV as "one of the darkest" hours in American science by depicting Gallo as "a megalomaniac intent more on self-promotion and profit than on a way to stop the AIDS epidemic," Clark states. In the early 1980s, Gallo, who was then the head of the National Cancer Institute's tumor cell biology lab, was "under pressure" to find the cause of AIDS. Crewdson writes that although Gallo "insisted" that he had isolated the retrovirus that was causing AIDS, this virus "was actually stolen in 1983 from French scientists who called their virus LAV." Gallo called the virus HTLV-III, named after human T-cell leukemia virus, which he had previously discovered. LAV had been discovered by Pasteur Institute scientists Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barr Sinoussi, but Gallo "gave the French no credit at all," Crewdson says. Gallo also developed a test to screen for HIV in the blood, but it was not as good as the one developed by scientists at the Pasteur Institute because it could not detect a "certain key protein." As a result, Gallo's test sometimes gave false negative results, and several people received organs and blood infected with HIV. Gallo also "tried to thwart" an investigation into the issue by the HHS Office of Scientific Integrity by refusing to release important documents, such as his lab's notebooks, Crewdson states. He writes, "Scientists are wrong every day and their mistakes are what push science forward. What set Gallo apart was his profound disinclination to acknowledge his mistakes, preferring instead to ignore them, insist they hadn't occurred, blame someone else or propagate outlandish explanations and outright fictions that only confused science further and slowed its forward march" (Clark, San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/10).
Op-Ed Says Gallo Should Highlight Importance of HHV-6A
Gallo could use the media attention surrounding the release of "Science Fictions" to suggest that scientific attention now turn to HHV-6A, a virulent strain of human herpes virus 6 that is "the real problem in AIDS and other diseases," Charles Ortleb states in a The Weekly News op-ed. In the op-ed, Ortleb, an author and former publisher of the New York Native who does not believe that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS, composes a fictional letter that Gallo should deliver to the scientific community. In the letter, Ortleb writes that HIV "is not the central figure in the AIDS epidemic that we all thought it was." Instead, HHV-6A "now seems to be a far more important factor in AIDS than HIV." Gallo is credited with the discovery of HHV-6 and has suggested that the virus may act as a co-factor in AIDS. Ortleb suggests that Gallo also could criticize the CDC for assigning "too narrow [a] definition" to AIDS by classifying it on the basis of T-cell depletion (Ortleb, The Weekly News, 1/24).