Pioneering AIDS researcher Robert Gallo to speak at UCSC on Thursday, March 4

Robert C. Gallo, M.D., the scientist who 20 years ago codiscovered the HIV virus as the cause of AIDS, will deliver the fourth annual Sinsheimer Distinguished Lecture in Biology at UC Santa Cruz on Thursday, March 4. The title of his talk is "HIV and AIDS in the 21st Century."

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 4 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room at Colleges Nine and Ten on the UCSC campus. Free parking and shuttle service to the event will be available after 3:30 p.m. at the Barn Theater by the main campus entrance.

Gallo, founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore, will discuss some of the features that make HIV such a deadly virus, suggest ways that scientists can help poor countries hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, and outline the steps that could lead to a preventive vaccine.

Gallo was head of the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology in 1981 when the mysterious disease known as AIDS was first recognized. He has spent much of his career trying to put an end to the devastating AIDS epidemic.

Though best known for his codiscovery of HIV, Gallo and his team also pioneered the development of the HIV blood test in the early 1980s, which enabled health care workers for the first time to screen for the AIDS virus, leading to a more rapid diagnosis while also protecting patients receiving blood transfusions. His research also helped physicians develop HIV therapies to prolong the lives of those infected with the virus.

Prior to the AIDS epidemic, Gallo was the first to identify a human retrovirus, the human leukemia virus (HTLV). In 1976, he and his colleagues discovered Interleukin-2, which is a growth-regulating substance now used as therapy in some cancers and sometimes for AIDS. And in 1986, he and his group discovered the first new human herpes virus in more than 25 years (HHV-6).

Today, Gallo's work continues at the Institute of Human Virology, which combines research, patient care, and prevention programs in a concerted effort to speed the pace of progress. The institute is a part of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and is affiliated with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Enormous progress has been made in the past 20 years in basic studies of human retroviruses, including the elucidation of their replication cycles and most of the mechanisms by which they cause disease. According to Gallo, scientists probably now know as much about HIV as they do about any virus, and may know as much about AIDS as they do about any disease.

For some, HIV no longer produces a predictable death. Rather, with therapy, HIV infection is often a chronic disease with far less morbidity than in the past. Furthermore, pediatric AIDS has been almost eliminated in the industrial world. But the good news, Gallo says, is tempered by major challenges: the emergence of drug-resistant strains of HIV; the toxicity of drugs needed for years and probably for a patient's lifetime; the rise in cancer incidence in HIV-infected patients; the increasing epidemic in some populations in Western nations; the increasing numbers of people doubly infected with HIV and tuberculosis or hepatitis C, and their worse prognosis; the considerable uncertainty about the future of the epidemic; the lack of a preventive vaccine; and the dramatic epidemic in parts of the world that face enormous financial and infrastructure challenges.

Gallo's interest in science and medicine was first stirred by the loss of his 6-year-old sister to leukemia when he was a teen. The physicians who cared for her made a lasting impression, and Gallo would later make scientific research and the effort to put an end to deadly diseases his life's work.

Gallo's research has brought him international recognition as well as election into the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. He has been awarded honors for his contributions to science from countries around the world and holds 15 honorary doctorates. Gallo was the most referenced scientist in the world in the 1980s and 1990s, when he had the unique distinction of twice winning the prestigious Albert Lasker Award in Medicine (in 1982 and 1986). He is the author of more than 1,100 scientific publications and the book Virus Hunting - AIDS, Cancer & the Human Retrovirus: A Story of Scientific Discovery.

The Sinsheimer Distinguished Lectureship in Biology is supported by an endowment from UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Emeritus Robert L. Sinsheimer and his wife, Karen. Robert Sinsheimer, who was chancellor from 1977 to 1987, is a renowned molecular biologist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The lecture is hosted this year by UCSC's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and cosponsored by KUSP Radio.

For more information about the lecture, contact the University Events Office at (831) 459-1438.


A photo of Dr. Gallo can be downloaded from the web at