HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago

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A Scientific Mystery


A Scientific Mystery


The health crisis and the political ramifications of the disease put immense pressure on the scientific research community; an international race to find the cause of AIDS unfolded.

Physicians and patients in New York and San Francisco supplied information and biological samples. Epidemiologists tracked the spread of AIDS. Other scientists pinned down molecular details. Careers, reputations, and the potential for enormous profits were at stake. Once they understood the viral nature and molecular behavior of HIV, medical workers developed diagnostic tests, therapeutic drugs, and new safety procedures.

Items in the A Scientific Mystery Collection

In 1983 Dr. Jay Levy and his lab colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco also isolated the virus. Levy used this equipment to collect cell cultures and tally cells during his HIV research.

In 1985 the first commercial HIV test became available. Using a technique developed in the 1960s and 1970s, the test identified HIV antibodies. It also sparked intense debates about privacy and the potential misuse of test results.

Once scientists established blood transmission of HIV, monitoring blood supplies became critical. Hemophilia patients required frequent transfusions, increasing their risk of infection.

Azidothymidine—AZT—brought the first real hope for treatment. It prolonged some patients’ lives by slowing replication of HIV. It was introduced in 1987 under the name Retrovir®.

In 1983–84, both Dr. Luc Montagnier, Pasteur Institute, Paris, and Dr. Robert Gallo, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, discovered HIV. They resolved the dispute over priority by sharing recognition as co-discoverers and…