Robert C. Gallo, M.D., became world famous in 1984 when the U.S. government announced that he had co-discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to be the cause of AIDS. Little was known then of the mysterious illness that was fast becoming the deadliest epidemic in medical history. Dr. Gallo has spent the past two decades trying to solve one of humanity’s greatest scientific challenges.
Though best known for his co-discovery of HIV, Gallo and his team in the early 1980s also pioneered the development of the HIV blood test, which enabled health care workers for the first time to screen for the AIDS virus - leading to a more rapid diagnosis while simultaneously protecting patients receiving blood transfusions. His research also helped physicians develop HIV therapies to prolong the lives of those infected with the virus. His discovery in 1996 that a natural compound known as chemokines can block the HIV virus and halt the progression of AIDS was hailed by Science magazine as one of that year's most important scientific breakthroughs.
Before the AIDS epidemic, Gallo was the first to identify a human retrovirus and the only known human leukemia virus - HTLV - one of few known viruses shown to cause a human cancer. In 1976, he and his colleagues discovered Interleukin-2, which is a growth-regulating substance now used as therapy in some cancers and sometimes AIDS. And in 1986, he and his group discovered the first new human herpes virus in more than 25 years (HHV-6), which was later shown to cause an infantile disease known as Roseola.
Today, Dr. Gallo's work continues at the Institute of Human Virology (IHV), an institute of the University of Maryland School of Medicine that Dr. Gallo helped found in 1996. IHV is a first-of-its-kind virology center that combines the disciplines of research, patient care and prevention programs in a concerted effort to speed the pace of progress.
Prior to becoming IHV director in 1996, Gallo spent 30 years at the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute, where he was head of its Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology. A Connecticut native, his interest in science and medicine was first stirred by the loss of his 6-year-old sister to leukemia when he was 13 years old. The physicians who cared for her made a lasting impression and helped Gallo decide to make scientific research - and the opportunity to help put an end to deadly diseases - his life's work.
Dr. Gallo’s research interests currently focus on the development of an effective HIV preventive vaccine and the development of innovative HIV therapies.