1986 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award

HIV as the cause of AIDS

Myron Essex
In fundamental studies in ordinary populations of cats, Dr. Essex and his collaborators demonstrated that leukemia is caused by a retrovirus that affects the T lymphocytes. This infection may cause T-cell leukemia, but more often it disrupts the immune system so that the animal becomes prey to opportunistic infections.

His major studies of this horizontally transmitted immunosuppressive retrovirus of cats prompted Dr. Essex to speculate whether another retrovirus, acting in the same way, might be the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in humans. Using reagents to the T-cell leukemia retrovirus, the only human retrovirus known at the time, he performed important serologic studies implicating a new retrovirus as the cause of AIDS. In studies of hemophiliacs, he showed that this retrovirus could be transmitted through blood products, and in a series of brilliant collaborations with colleagues in the US and overseas, he discovered related retroviruses in humans and primates. His discovery of simian and human retroviruses which do not cause immune suppression, and his research that led to a vaccine against the feline leukemia retrovirus, may serve as a foundation for preventive vaccines against AIDS.

With unfailing creativity, Dr. Essex and his group have explored the molecular biology of the AIDS retrovirus, defining its most important gene product, GP-120, its key antigen and the target of future vaccine research.

For his unique contributions to understanding the cause of AIDS, and for his research on the impact of retroviral infection on the human immune system, this 1986 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award is given.
Robert Gallo
A distinguished history of discoveries concerning white blood cells (especially T lymphocytes), retroviruses and methods of cell culture prepared Dr. Gallo to confront the challenge of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The disease first appeared in the US in Los Angeles and New York in 1981.

From the human T-cell leukemia retrovirus which he had previously discovered, Dr. Gallo created probes to study a new retrovirus, isolated from AIDS patients. Using the potent natural T-cell growth-stimulating factor, interleukin-2, which he had discovered in 1976, he propagated lymphocytes taken from AIDS patients. He developed permanent cell lines in which to grow this new retrovirus abundantly, enabling him to perform seroepidemiologic studies proving it to be the agent that causes AIDS.

Dr. Gallo characterized this retrovirus, defined it biologically, discovered that it infects brain cells and macrophages as well as T cells, and found it may evade the body's defense mechanisms by altering its own genetic identity. He developed an array of reagents for studying the AIDS retrovirus, distributing them freely to other investigators throughout the world. He also arrived at promising strategies for developing preventive vaccines. Dr. Gallo's work led to the development of a test for antibodies to the retrovirus in the blood, for screening transfusions and preventing blood-borne spread of the disease.

To a desperate moment of public alarm when physicians lacked any means of treating AIDS patients, Dr. Gallo brought clarity of vision and an invigorating spirit of inquiry that has set a pace for research unprecedented in medical history.

To Dr. Gallo, for his unique contributions in identifying the cause of AIDS, for his investigations of human T-cell lymphotropic retroviruses, and for his intellectual and scientific leadership in AIDS research, this 1986 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award is given.
Luc Montagnier
In the early 1980s, patients suffering from what came to be known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) began seeking treatment at the Pasteur Institute and other European centers. Dr. Montagnier and other scientists found that these patients were severly immune-suppressed, unable to fight infections because of a life-threatening loss of T lymphocytes. Environmental factors, genetic predisposition, certain sexual practices, and the overload of antigens from various diseases were proposed as its cause. The clinical picture was complicated by the number of opportunistic infections and malignancies which the patients developed, but epidemiological data suggested that the underlying cause of AIDS might be a virus, as yet undiscovered.

In cells taken from a patient with early signs of AIDS, Dr. Montagnier and his colleagues found that reverse transcriptase activity was present, indicating that a retrovirus was at work. Dr. Montagnier discovered that the retrovirus killed certain disease-fighting T cells, an effect which could account for the immunodeficiency associated with AIDS. Dr. Montagnier's work led to the development of a test for antibodies to the retrovirus in the blood, for screening transfusions, and for preventing blood-borne spread of the disease.

Dr. Montagnier's discovery of a retrovirus in AIDS patients and its lethal effect on T cells is a reminder to the public that science is moved forward by the minds of individuals, and that, at special moments of discovery, a daring and receptive investigator can grasp a profound biological truth, in all its simplicity.

To Dr. Montagnier, for his unique contributions to understanding the cause of AIDS and for his discovery of a retrovirus shown to be responsible for this major new threat to world health, this 1986 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award is given.