Office of NIH History  
In Their Own Words: NIH Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS
 
Audio Transcript
Dr. Robert Yarchoan
 
   
 
We really reprogrammed our laboratory to work on HIV when the virus was discovered. My impression is that, until the virus was isolated, it was relatively hard for most scientists to get a good handle on how to attack AIDS. You could document how the immune system was going down, and you could show a number of epiphenomena. But people did not have a handle on the pathological root of the disease. If someone was working on cardiac metabolism or lipid metabolism, there would be no reason for them to switch over and do AIDS. They would not necessarily add much to it. And heart disease is also a public health problem.

I think a good number of people who were working in fields where their expertise could be turned to AIDS did it, and often they did it without getting extra money for it or because someone told them to do it. They did it because of the combination of reasons you do science–because you can help people, because opportunities exist to contribute something, and for a number of other reasons.

I think the irony is that I have heard the NIH also being critiqued for too many people working on AIDS in those days. So it seems that whatever we do, we get some criticism. But I do believe that if there are interesting scientific puzzles, a number of people will work on them if they have the tools to work on them; and that discovering the virus made the disease much more amenable to scientific work.

 
     
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