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Medicine and science are highly regarded and respected institutions among the American public. Many people do not understand or care to understand the medical or scientific jargon that is used to describe specific phenomena. Most trust that doctors and scientists are forthcoming and honest in their presentations of medical and scientific announcements. Therefore, there are rarely challenges posed to those who declare scientific or medical breakthroughs. However, many scientists have been exposed for misleading of millions of innocent and trusting people. In search for fame and fortune, many doctors and scientists make misleading or false statements to the public for the advancement of their own careers.
Doctor Robert Gallo, is one such man. Dr. Gallo is recognized for his research into the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and was awarded the first scientific prize from the American Foundation of AIDS Research in 1987 for his achievements.(1) Gallo completed his undergraduate work at Providence College in 1959 and earned his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1963. He was the head of the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology for the National Institute of Health until 1995. (6) He then assumed the position of director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland.
In 1984, Dr. Gallo, then the director of the Laboratory for Tumor Cell Biology at the National Cancer Institute, claimed to discover the virus that causes AIDS. (1) He also affirmed to have devised a test for the presence of antibodies to the virus and was able to grow in abundance the virus needed for research. At a press conference held in April of 1984, Dr. Gallo announced with the presence of Margaret Heckler, then the secretary of Health and Human Services, that he had found the probable cause of AIDS. (8) This virus, which he called HTLV-III, is a retrovirus that would later be referred to as HIV. Health Secretary Margaret Heckler 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. (8) All speculations about the AIDS cause immediately stopped. From this moment, the theory that HIV causes AIDS is accepted nationwide and hope is increased among the common public. The public was exhilarated with the prospect of vaccines for the prevention of AIDS. They cheered the idea that lives could be saved. Blood banks and transfusions would now be safer and blood work dealing with AIDS could be more accurate.
With this announcement, Dr. Gallo publicly avoided the scientific process in which peer review and analysis are standard procedure. The announcement was made prior to the publication of the articles presenting the evidence. A firm rule of scientific publication discourages this practice. (2) It impedes the critical evaluations because scientists cannot comment on research that they haven t seen. In addition, prepublication praise causes scientists to see in the articles only what the media has supported. In fact, some research that was found indicated that only fifty percent of Gallo s sample patients had any trace of HIV.(4) Even though very few scientists supported Dr. Gallo, his claims were undisputed, for a while, simply due to the fact that he supported by the Federal Government.
Coincidentally, in 1983, Luc Montagnier, a scientist at the Pasteur Institute in France reported the discovery of a virus that might be the cause of AIDS.(5) The Pasteur Institute had consulted Dr. Robert Gallo before the public announcement of their findings. Because of the prestige and influence he held among those of the science community in the United States, they felt that Gallo s reputation could help them advance their research of the virus and provide the means to preside over international research.(4) When the Pasteur Institute actually submitted their original finding to Nature, the submission was rejected with comments suggesting that the virus that they claimed to find was contaminated in their laboratory.(4) They were urged to wait a while before making their finding officially known. Coincidentally, on the day prior to the historical press conference, the New York Times published an article giving the Pasteur Institute full credit for isolating a new retrovirus, proving that it caused AIDS and developing a test to detect it. (4) The next day, with little regard for the French claim, U.S. scientists at the National Cancer Institute under Dr. Robert Gallo, announced the discovery of such a virus, the probable cause of AIDS. ONE day later, Dr. Gallo also contended to have a test, which indicated the presence of antibodies associated with the virus.(5) Within one year, the test was licensed and patented. Dr. Gallo s blood test was a simultaneous discovery with that of the Pasteur Institute. Earlier that same year the Pasteur team applied for a blood test patent in the U.S. and was stalled.(5) Gallo s application was lodged concurrently and was granted immediately.
Dr. Robert Gallo had intentionally misled colleagues, as well as the greater portion of the American public, to gain credit for himself and diminish credit due to the French competitors. French officials filed a complaint charging that HTLV-III is LAV. LAV is the name of the French strain of the virus. The French attempted seek an equal share of credit and royalties.(4) The National Cancer Institute investigated the charges and denied France s claim.
Later, the Federal office of Research Integrity began a full investigation of Dr. Gallo s claims to the AIDS virus. The Department of Health and Human Services for final review of scientific misconduct cases created the Office of Research Integrity.(5) Dr. Gallo faced many questions concerning his scientific claims since the publication in Science Magazine in 1984. Investigators believed that Dr. Gallo was guilty of taking credit for the work of the French. Some even believed that Dr. Gallo might have taken the virus that the French were studying and claimed it as his own. Dr. Gallo s assistant, Dr. Mikula Popovic, a Czechoslovak immigrant was also charged with scientific misconduct. (5)
A report issued by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) stated that Dr. Robert Gallo had misled colleagues by claiming that he had cultured an AIDS virus in his laboratory for research and that he had not studied or grown the similar French strain of the virus.(7) In fact, the reports also states that Dr. Gallo had indeed, cultured the French virus and used in furthering his own research.
While in search of the cause for AIDS, Dr. Gallo had received a sample of the virus being studied by French researchers.(3) He had done much work with it to extend his own discoveries. Gallo, in his 1984 papers claimed that the French virus was difficult to work with and he could not grow enough to study. He stated: It has not been transmitted to a permanently growing cell line for true isolation and therefore has been difficult to obtain in quantity. (1) Investigators found that the French virus had been found in Dr. Gallo s laboratory and worked with. The ORI report exposes Gallo s false claims. The report states: Dr. Gallo falsely reported the status of LAV research when he wrote his paper in 1984, this constitutes scientific misconduct. (5) The ORI report also found other occasions of scientific misconduct exhibited by Gallo and his team. For instance, it was found that Dr. Gallo had altered several lines of an article submitted by French researchers to favor his own hypothesis of the AIDS virus. It was also charged that Dr. Gallo, as senior author of the 1984 paper, is responsible for numerous discrepancies, including four cases of scientific misconduct attributed to Dr. Popovic, Gallo s assistant. The ORI also found that Dr. Gallo s record keeping and laboratory management reflected negligence. Dr. Gallo demonstrated the inability to document many of the crucial steps of his experiments. Such behavior inhibits the ability of other scientists to trace the important steps taken to isolate the disease. Dr. Gallo also failed to determine, in a timely manner, the exact origin of some of the crucial cells in which he grew the virus. Similar to the virus, the cells that were used were also found to be “borrowed from another scientist.(6) This scientist s name was not disclosed and had also been failed to be credited in Dr. Gallo s 1984 paper. Later, Gallo refused to share the cells with other scientists trying to duplicate some important AIDS work.
By 1987, Dr. Gallo s scientific misconduct had become largely associated with national scientific prestige. The president s of France and the United States attempted to end the conflict. President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac announced an agreement to share the credit and the royalties.(5) However, the conflict was not resolved. The sale of the French and American AIDS tests produced combined royalties of about $6 million a year. The Department of Health and Human Services has retained about $3 million and the Pasteur Institute about $2 million. The remaining $1 million is used to fund AIDS related research. (8) Since the 1987 settlement, the United States has acknowledged that Dr. Gallo had received more than $700,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services for the royalties of the blood test.(5) It wasn t until July of 1994, when renegotiations of the blood test royalties guaranteed the French fifty- percent of the royalties.(5) Gallo, however, still continues to receive $100,000 a year in royalties, in addition to his annual salary from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Office of Scientific Integrity launched a federal investigation in 1990; after John Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune wrote a 50,000-word article in 1989, laying out many of the charges against Dr. Gallo and his laboratory.(4) Dr. Gallo denied any wrongdoing and charged that a conspiracy was being launched to discredit him. He believed that the federal investigations were unwarranted and were of concern to those who hope to advance medical knowledge. He stated that his laboratory s contributions to medical science were undisputed. (4)
. In December of 1992, The Office of Research Integrity completed its final review and found Dr. Gallo guilty of misconduct and reaffirmed the charges against Popovic.(5) The Pasteur Team received a detailed report from the inspector general of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The report concluded the Dr. Robert Gallo obtained his patent by unlawfully concealing relevant information concealing information from the patent office attorney.(5) He then admitted that Pasteur scientists were the first to discover the AIDS virus and to isolate it successfully from several AIDS patients. The Department of Health and Human Services finally accredited the Pasteur Institute for describing it in a scientific journal and to use it to make a diagnostic blood test for antibodies to the virus.(7) In short, American science had no entitlement at all to patent, patent royalties or credit for the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS.
Dr. Gallo s scandalous behavior in AIDS research was no first.
If he had not risen to such power and influence within the federal health bureaucracy, it is likely that his claim to have found a single infectious cause for the different diseases grouped together as AIDS in the early 1980 s would have been highly criticized by research scientists around the world.(6) After all, this was the man who praises his own discovery of what he claimed to be the first human retrovirus, HL23V, in the mid 70 s. After another look, this exciting find turned out to be nothing of the sort, only an accidental rarity. His laboratory hadn t done the basic controls.(6) To his great embarrassment, Gallo had to recant his embellished claims and HL23V humbly withdrew as a virus from the scientific dictionary.
The level of trust which society holds for the scientific community is unparalleled to any other institution in our society. Society trusts that they will be told the truth not only about discoveries and breakthroughs but also about the means by which they occur. Although most of the work that Dr. Gallo has done has benefited the American public, the way in which he obtained and presented the information was misleading and deceitful. He had stolen his ideas, information and specimens from the French and claimed them to be his own. How can the American public trust the scientific community if situations such as this occur? The trust society holds will only continue if the scientific community dedicates itself to exemplifying and transmitting the values associated with ethical scientific conduct.
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