A laureate in service

Our view: Baltimore's Dr. Robert C. Gallo was also a giant in the fight against AIDS

October 08, 2008

Sir Isaac Newton, the pioneer of modern physics, once said he was able to achieve what he had because he stood on the shoulders of giants. In science, as in sports, great things often are accomplished through the collective effort of many individuals.

The discovery in 1983 of the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS was such an achievement, and this week two French researchers, Dr. Luc Montagnier and Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for that breakthrough.

But because of a technicality in the rules governing the award of the prize, Dr. Robert C. Gallo, a virologist at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in Baltimore, did not share in the accolades. The rules are narrowly tailored to reward only those who initially discover scientific principles or phenomena rather than those who put such knowledge to practical use.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial yesterday incorrectly said that Dr. Robert C. Gallo's Institute of Human Virology is part of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. It is part of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Although Dr. Gallo wasn't the first to identify the virus, it was he who made the crucial connection between HIV and AIDS that allowed scientists to begin developing drugs and vaccines to combat the epidemic's spread. If not for his pathbreaking research, millions more lives would have been lost before the pandemic was checked. That work more than qualifies him for recognition as a giant as well.

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