In 1982, Robert Gallo from the National Cancer Institute in the USA, put forward the hypothesis that the cause of AIDS is a retrovirus. One year later, Myron Essex and his colleagues (1) found that AIDS patients had antibodies to the Human T-cell Leukemia virus Type-1 (HTLV-I), a virus discovered by Gallo a few years earlier. At the same time, Gallo and his colleagues (2) reported the isolation of HTLV-I from AIDS patients and advocated a role for this retrovirus in the pathogenesis of AIDS. This hypothesis however, was not without a few problems:
1. While HTLV-I was accepted to induce T4-cell proliferation and cause adult T-cell leukaemia,(3) the “hallmark” of AIDS was T4-cell depletion, and the incidence of leukaemia in AIDS patients was no higher than in the general population;
The highest frequency of antibodies to this virus was found in Japan, yet no AIDS cases had been reported from that country;(4)
3. In the same month in which Gallo’s and Essex’s groups reported their data, Luc Montagnier and his colleagues from the Pasteur Institute, described the isolation of a retrovirus, later known as Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus (LAV), from the lymph nodes of a homosexual patient with lymphadenopathy.(5) Although this virus was similar to HTLV-I, one of its proteins, a protein with a molecular weight of 24,000 (p24), did not react with monoclonal antibodies to the HTLV-I p24 protein. Samples of this virus were, on several occasions, sent to Gallo’s laboratory.
In May 1984, Gallo, Popovic and their colleagues published four papers in Science in which they claimed to have isolated from AIDS patients, another retrovirus, which they called HTLV-III.(6,7,8,9) On the 23rd of April 1984, before the Science papers were published, Gallo and Margaret Heckler, the then Health and Human Services Secretary called a press conference to announce that Gallo and his co-workers had found the cause of AIDS and had developed a sensitive test to show whether the “AIDS virus” is present in blood.
In 1985, the Pasteur Institute alleged that Gallo had misappropriated LAV in developing the blood test. The ensuing conflict, which reached the American courts, was eventually settled by a negotiated agreement signed in 1987 by Gallo, Montagnier, US President Reagan and French Premier Chirac. The agreement declared Gallo and Montagnier to be co-discoverers of the AIDS virus, presently known as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Nevertheless, the misappropriation conflict drew the attention of John Crewdson, an investigative journalist, and US Senator John Dingell. In November 1989, Crewdson published a lengthy article in the Chicago Tribune newspaper, “With allegations that Robert C. Gallo stole from French scientists the virus he discovered to be the cause of AIDS.
“(10) This led to a National Institute of Health (NIH) internal “inquiry” into the allegation with “an outside committee of expert but disinterested parties led by Yale biochemist Frederic Richards to oversee the activity of the internal panel”.(11)
Following the inquiry, which was viewed as a fact-finding mission, the Richards committee insisted on a “formal investigation … on suspect data in one of four seminal papers published by Gallo’s lab in Science on 4 May 1984”.(12) In this paper, the first of a series of four, with Mikulas Popovic the principal author, “their appears to be differences between what was described in the paper and what was done”.
(10) A draft report of the formal investigation written by NIH Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), was published in September 1991. In the draft report, Popovic is accused “of misconduct for misstatements and inaccuracies” that appeared in the paper, and that Gallo, as laboratory chief, “created and fostered conditions that give rise to falsified/ fabricated data and falsified reports”. However, Gallo’s actions were not considered to “meet the formal definition of misconduct”.(13)
The final draft report of the OSI, completed in January 1992, was immediately criticised by the Richards Panel as well as Senator Dingell. This led to a review of the OSI report by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which found Gallo guilty of scientific misconduct. Nonetheless, the scientific misconduct is said not to “negate the central findings of the 1984 Science paper”.
(13,14) In other words, despite the above findings, at .