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AIDS codiscoverer censured for misconduct.

The US. Department of Health and Human Services released a report last week concluding that government AIDS researcher Robert C. Gallo committed scientific misconduct in connection with his codiscovery with French scientists in 1984 of the virus that causes AIDS. The report found that Gallo misrepresented his laboratory's ability to grow the virus from a sample donated by the French, a move that had the potential to obscure the significance of the French contribution to the discovery of the cause of AIDS.

The report - produced by HHS's Office of Research Integrity (ORI) - adds fuel to an eight-year-old international controversy over the lucrative patent rights to blood tests for AIDS that use pieces of the Aids-causing virus to detect antiviral antibodies in infected individuals. It also prompts questions about Gallo's future as director of the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology, one of the largest federal biomedical laboratories.

The report's findings center on a key sentence in one of the 1984 scientific papers in which Gallo describes his team's discovery of an AIDS-causing virus and cites evidence suggesting that the virus differs from the one called LAV, which was isolated by Luc Montagnier and colleagues at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. In that paper, Gallo wrote that the apparent difference between LAV and his group's virus may result from "insufficient characterization of LAV because the virus has not been transmitted to a permanently growing cell line for true isolation and therefore has been difficult to obtain in quantity"

By examining earlier drafts of the paper and records from Gallo's laboratory, the authors of the ORI report obtained evidence that Gallo and his colleagues had in fact transferred LAV to a permanent cell line - a crucial step in producing sufficient viral proteins for the development of an AIDS test. ORI concludes that while the misrepresentation "did not invalidate the basic findings of [Gallo's] research ... [it] had the potential to impede the rapid advancement of research efforts with LAV" by dissuading other researchers from working with the virus.

Gallo terms the entire investigation "endless and incompetent" and contends that the disputed sentence pertained only to the French team's inability to grow significant quantities of LAV, not to the work of his own laboratory, "After reviewing everything I and my colleagues have ever published on the discovery of the AIDS virus and the develop of the AIDS blood test, ORI could only take issue with a few trivial mistakes and a single sentence written by me," he says.

The ORI asserts that by "falsely reporting" his laboratory's work with LAV, Gallo committed scientific misconduct - a finding that reverses the conclusion reached in 1991 by a National Institutes of Health investigative office that examined the matter. The ORI confirms the NIH finding that A scientist who had worked in Gallo's laboratory, Mikulas Popovic, committed four "relatively minor" instances of misconduct by recording apparently false data from several AIDS experiments outlined in the 1984 papers.

Based on the findings, the ORI proposes that NIH - and any other federally funded institution that may subsequently employ Gallo or Popovic - monitor the scientists' "recording and reporting" of data for a period of three years. The ORI also recommends that NIH "consider whether any other actions are appropriate in relation to Dr. Gallo or the management of [his laboratory]."

Gallo and his attorney, Joseph Onek of the Washington, D.C., law firm Crowell & Moring, say they will appeal the ORI recommendations to the only remaining recourse, a judicial board within HHS.

But the Pasteur Institute's attorney, Michael A. Epstein of the New York City law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, claims the ORI report "is a significant event" in the renewed dispute over AIDS blood test royalties. Epstein has petitioned HHS to reopen the 1987 settlement that splits the royalties among Gallo, Montagnier, their institutions, and a foundation to fund AIDS research in developing countries (SN: 7/18/92, p.46). "This shows that the statements Gallo and the U.S. government made in 1986 to get the settlement were all lies," he asserts.

An NIH spokeswoman says the agency will await the outcome of Gallo's appeal before deciding upon taking any additional action against him.
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Title Annotation:government AIDS researcher Robert C. Gallo
Author:Ezzell, Carol
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 9, 1993
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