Prof. Robert Gallo
The American scientist who discovered AIDS, Prof. Robert Gallo, said on his visit to Israel that there has been great progress in developing a vaccine against the disease, which kills millions of people every year. Since discovered in 1981, the virus has taken the lives of more than 25 million people around the world. At present, the vaccine is effective for three to four months, and has been tested successfully on mice, dogs and rabbits, and lately on monkeys. The results, according to Prof. Gallo, are promising. Prof. Gallo, who will receive an honorary award from Bar-Ilan university, was interviewed on Israelís Channel 2.
Question: Professor Gallo, you have set a milestone in understanding AIDS back in 1983 by defining the HIV. What has happened since, any breakthrough?
Prof. Gallo: Well, as you know, we donít like to use the word breakthrough because it sounds like everything is finished but there have been scientific milestones. Certainly since the period of 83'-85' when the virus was clearly shown to be the cause of the AIDS and a blood test was developed, so the first milestone I guess, was the blood test and it allowed us to be able to protect the blood supply for blood transfusions for medical purposes. It also allowed us to have a test that followed the epidemic from the time of infection throughout the disease and we didnít have to wait until the clinical signs of AIDS appeared. Following that, the next practical milestone was of course the beginning of therapy. Since this is a virus that stays with you, itís a virus of the type we call retrovirus, that once you are infected you are infected forever, unlike the vast majority of viruses which come and go, therefore we really needed treatment, and treatment began in 1986 and culminated in the mid 90's.
Question: And 20 years later we have no vaccine yet. How close are we?
Prof. Gallo: Vaccine has been the most significant failure of the scientific quest. In our institute there has been some important progress. I donít want to say breakthrough, I donít even want to say yet milestone, but the progress that has been made is proving that you can get a vaccine candidate that will make an immune response of the type we believe to be what's needed to block HIV from entering the cell. A type which raises neutralizing antibodies and can do it against the majority of strains of HIV. But we donít have other technical problems solved yet, we canít make that vaccine last a long time. We want to get it to the right levels, those are problems we are still working on with collaborators. While Iím here in Israel it's important for me to point out that intellectually the contributions for this vaccine came from one of my colleagues Dr. Devito, but also from an Israeli scientist, a young guy from the Weizmann institute then, he's now in Tel-Aviv, John Gershoni, who made important intellectual contributions to this pathway.
Question: So finally Prof. Gallo I would like to ask you if today in the year 2005 you can see the day when we will be able to declare we won the battle on AIDS?
Prof. Gallo: Yeah, I do, personally I have to believe, you lose your spirit and your drive if you don't. Intellectually I think it is feasible that we'll get a successful vaccine against HIV and I think like therapy if we get the vaccine against HIV it will be something important for biology in general; it will be that kind of milestone, not just against that disease and that virus. But remember, it has already proven that you can treat a viral disease and the vaccine against HIV, if successful, will give courage against any kind of virus, I believe, and I think the progress made is giving us encouragement.
Read about Prof. Robert Gallo (Wikipedia)
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