Dr. Robert Gallo is
considered among the best scientists in the United States. He is the bio-medical researcher who
discovered the first retrovirus in humans, which causes a rare form of leukemia. But he is best known for his work in identifying HIV as the virus that causes AIDS.
His virology findings have led to a new line of research on viruses that
cause several forms of cancer. Zulima
Palacio has more in this latest edition of our series, Making a Difference.
Robert Gallo starts his days
with a long, 45 minute commute. While
driving, he talks on the phone with one of his assistants and gives her a long
list of instructions. He is still working hard
nearly 30 years after his 1974 breakthrough discovery of the first retrovirus
in humans that causes leukemia.
That work later led to the
discovery of Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
He also developed the HIV blood test.
Ten years ago, Dr. Gallo and
two other scientists founded the Institute of Human Virology in the eastern
city of Baltimore, Maryland, which is dedicated to the study and treatment of
Dr. Gallo has been honored
with more than 80 medical awards and 30 honorary degrees. However, when asked about what is usually
cited as his most important achievement, the discovery of the AIDS virus is not
in his list. "Emotionally, the most important thing I got satisfaction from was
the discovery of the first human retrovirus, the leukemia virus HTLV-1, because
it was one of the first viruses shown to be the cause of cancer," he explains.
Dr. Gallo's sister died of
leukemia when she was a child, and he
says he embarked on a lifetime of research after six painful months as a
medical doctor, treating children with leukemia. "Watching a lot of children, while taking care of them,
die was a horrific experience," says Gallo. "Certainly, it led me not to want to see patients ever again, and I never
Scientists argued for years
over who first isolated the HIV virus in the early 1980s. Eventually, Dr. Gallo and Dr. Luc Montagnier
of the Pasteur Institute in Paris were declared co-discoverers. When looking at a photograph of Dr.
Montagnier, Robert Gallo highlighted their cooperation in fighting
HIV-AIDS. "This is
a picture of Montagnier - we are in Cameroon in Africa," noted Gallo. "Montagnier has a
foundation, and I am on his board. He is also a member of this institute."
At home, Dr. Gallo is
surrounded by reminders of his research and awards. His wife Mary Jane recalls a full life, of travel and meeting
world leaders. But mostly, she recalls
their life together. "We have
known each other for 50 years - amazing!" she comments.
After a busy day at work,
the scientist, 71, ends a day on the tennis court with friend and colleague
Joe Bryant, who jokes with Dr. Gallo about his poor backhand and his
When asked how Dr. Gallo will be remembered,
those who know him say they will recall his forceful personality and dogged