Office of NIH History
In Their Own Words: NIH Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS
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The Institute will be divided into three programs: population studies–and prevention as well–essentially it is epidemiology and prevention, Blattner; a clinical program, Redfield; a laboratory science program, me. Each will have its own little committees of scientific advisory groups within the Institute or its surroundings at the University of Maryland.

There will be a Board that will be freestanding, at least one day it is supposed to be freestanding. The Institute has its own scientific advisory board, as well as a very impressive–I am hoping it will be [impressive]–Board of Trustees.

People are advising me on this now, but at this moment I cannot properly, ethically, get too involved in that. But, I trust the people helping me and, from what they tell me, it sounds extremely exciting. I just cannot report it to you.

There will be very close relations with the hospital. We want to have a relationship with the outside community in Baltimore too. This [Institute] is in the Empowerment Zone, so we want to have programs for people in the minority community for training in technology, jobs in short. [Dr. Joseph] Joe Bryant will join me, and Joe is an African American. He will play a close role in working with minority colleges in training programs and grants for AIDS. This is the direction he is going to go. He is a veterinarian, as well.

The Maryland governor and I hope, obviously, that the biotechnology company will also be economically useful for the State of Maryland. I believe that. I expect in time there will be more than one biotechnology company.

We will collaborate throughout the University of Maryland, hopefully, and we will certainly collaborate with Johns Hopkins's AIDS people because, after all, we are partly funded by state and city. As I told you, I have a position at Hopkins and some of the AIDS people there have talked about some linkage, and I hope to have that with them.

We will surely go for philanthropic help and certainly industrial help and, of course, we will try to have a partnership with the NIH. I have already spoken, as much as I can speak, to people in NIAID [National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]. I cannot be specific because I cannot be fundraising just now. Doing things like that is not right ethically at this moment. Obviously my hope would be that we will be partnered with NIAID and with Dr. [Anthony S.] Fauci, personally, in some of his research programs, in particular, perhaps, in vaccine and therapy aspects with being part of the program here and, in Kapos's sarcoma, probably with NCI, or certainly with NCI.

Harden: You stated in one newspaper article that one feature attracting you to this new post was the direct access to patients that you lacked at the NIH. Did you mean lack of access to patients, or to clinical trials in general?

Gallo: Everything. When I came to NIH, I was in Building 10, the Clinical Center, and there was not much competition for patient samples. Over time, the Clinical Center has been shrinking. The number of people who want the same patient samples has grown, and I am no longer in Building 10. Even obtaining clinical specimens, let alone getting into clinical trials, is not so easy here. It may be tougher here than any place in the world, because there is a tremendous population of scientists on the campus so, no matter who you are, no matter what you have done, it is not easy.

Look at whom I collaborated with. Look at the HCG paper–Paris, Belgium, West Coast. If you look, even in our 1984 papers showing the etiology, there is Redfield at Walter Reed, North Carolina, Georgetown, and I cannot remember where else, but they are all over the place. They, Broder and others, were also here at that time too.

So, I will have a clinical program at the new Institute. I will have something to say about clinical specimens. Redfield will be the boss of the clinic, but we will be talking every day.

Harden: We want to go back, as we start to wind up this interview, to some of the things you said when we first talked to you. One of these was the comments you made about the scientific climate when you first came to NIH.

Gallo: I am sorry. I forgot one thing related to the question of leaving the NIH. The other thing is, I would like to leave some kind of legacy when I am ready permanently to leave this place we call Earth. At the NIH, what I see is that when people retire often there is nothing there any more. The laboratory is sometimes dismantled, and I do not know whether there is change, but there is certainly nothing to indicate anything ever was there.

This is one of those rare moments in the history of the NIH where anybody is talking about permanence, or a legacy, or a record of scientific accomplishment. Maybe the NIH is more conscious of that now than it used to be, but let us consider some people that were thought to be pretty great during their time here. I think they just disappear into the walls.

[Dr. Robert] Huebner was a great virologist. He had an illness. He is gone. There is nothing left of his laboratory, and you would not know he had been here. I think that I have become a little Europeanized by spending too much time in Europe. As I told you before, every Rue, every Piazza, every Platz, whether it is in, say, Germany, Italy, France, or Britain, or wherever, has the names of artists, philosophers, musicians and scientists. Here in America everything is named for a politician or a money donor. This is fine, and I will be doing the same thing, I suppose, but one would just like to know that there would be also something more than the wall that was inside there. It would be nice to be able to say, “That is a great institute; I helped build it,” and to know that it is there. If I walk out of here, I do not know what is going to be here.

It is the government. I mean, it is government. It is not personal. It is everybody. Everybody has this problem at the NIH, and what you do depends on your psyche or your position. If you are in a position to do something about it, you do something about it, if it bothers your psyche. It bothers my psyche and I am in a position to do something about it. But I am 58, and so would I be able to do something about it 10 years from now? It is now or never.

Harden: Going back then to when you first came to NIH, you described the climate for research for a young investigator and how exciting it was.

Gallo: Yes.

Harden: From your perspective now, how do you see the climate for young investigators at the NIH who are just beginning?

Gallo: I told you that one of the great difficulties for me–and I do not mean this to be funny; it is true–there is a variable that we cannot account for, and the variable is age. You would have to ask me this question and turn me back into a 27-year-old, or a 26-year-old, the age I was when I came here. That was 30 years ago. Anything I say now is biased by age. There are two variables: the real difference, and the difference in me. I am more cynical now and a little more perceptive of weaknesses and holes, and I know that not every laboratory chief here is a monument. I had my mouth open and my eyes wide when I first came to NIH, and I was impressed by everything. That is a difference. It is hard for me to say what the climate is for a young investigator.

I do not think there is the same level of enthusiasm and idealism as there was when I came. Now, I do not like to say that, and I may be wrong. It may be because I am older and I do not see it. But it is my impression. Part of it is, I think, that I do not see as many Americans here and, to me, as an American, coming here at that period of time... Although it must be that I am partly right, because in that period of time everybody talked about the NIH and you had to go to the NIH for two to three years before you could become cool to academia. I know there are two changes in America today: first, fewer people who go into academia think they have to come to the NIH; and second, there are fewer people going into academia, period. Those are two facts. So, I am certainly partly right. Part of it is not just getting older. I think I would conclude that there is less enthusiasm and less idealism among the young people now related to NIH.

But that does not mean there is none, or that it is a crisis; it is just not as much as I think there was when I came.

Can you recapture it? That is the added corollary. I do not know. There is much more competition for the NIH now, and there is going to be more.

Harden: You have said that many young investigators have applied for a position in your new institute and that you were contemplating how many to take from your own laboratory. Will this laboratory go on? Mostly, at the NIH, laboratories are created for the person. Will the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology continue when you leave?

Gallo: I do not know. I hope so, because it has been part of my existence, in a way, for so long, for my whole career, and so it is funny to see it over.

Harden: But you named this laboratory. This laboratory did not exist before you.

Gallo: That is correct. But it is not always true that a laboratory dies when somebody leaves. It could. The decision has to be made, I know, on the basis of the plans of what the NIH's future is going to be: what it can afford in the new climate, what its direction will be, what the new director wants. So, I do not know what to say. I do not know if it will continue. I will not be taking everyone from the laboratory. I will take some, surely. How many I take depends on many factors, including the nature of the applicants I am now receiving and how much money I can afford to spend at the beginning, things that I have to calculate and deal with yet. I will not know the answer to that until the fall. But some people I will take.

I would like some to stay, even for the reason of continuation here, for maintaining some collaboration and the existence of the department, or the branch, or the laboratory.

Harden: You will have senior people, then, who will also stay here?

Gallo: I hope so. I think so.

Rodrigues: You mentioned before how after some very prominent scientists who worked in the intramural program departed, there was nothing to indicate that they ever worked there. You mentioned Dr. Huebner. In a small way, our museum is attempting to remedy that.

Gallo: It is not a small way. It may be a very big way because, if there is almost nothing now, that having the museum is infinite improvement.

Rodrigues: Rather than asking you a question at this point, I want to make a request. If you come across anything in the act of departing that you may think would be appropriate for the museum, we would like for you to offer it to us.

Gallo: Do you take things that include pictures?

Harden: Yes. We certainly do.

Gallo: In 1984 I had major discussions in this office and a visit and it was photographed by this Brazilian photographer and I have the pictures with Albert Sabin. Right in back of you there is a picture... After the leukemia viruses were discovered, that is Ludwik Gross, who discovered the first mammalian leukemia viruses in mice, and he is an historic figure. Scientists that are in virology know him, but almost nobody else does. He was funded by the Veterans' Administration Hospital. But, certain pictures that will bring back... But it is hard for me to tell you... As I told you, I dumped so much stuff.

Harden: Perhaps later we can extend our conversations about your Federal records, personal records, and pictures. Dennis and I are also very keen on collecting laboratory instruments, technologies, objects, and articles.

Gallo: Then I will tell you, I would talk with Evelyn in the office, and Anna. Anna and Evelyn, not Gail. Gail has moved. Anna has been with me a long time doing manuscript typing. Evelyn has been around here a long time too. I would talk to both of them. You might want to mark that down. Then I would also consider speaking with Marvin Reitz, with Veffa Franchini here, and Sarang and Markham, who are off-campus but are close collaborators that we have seen twice a week for all these years. They have closely collaborated throughout, since 1970, which is 25 years of collaboration. They are much better in the record game because they keep it for the company, a lot of stuff. Then, other than myself exploring around, I would talk with Popovic, who is now in the Karolinska Institute, Flossie Wong-Staal at San Diego, and a few of the technicians, Ersell Richardson, who is still here might be one, and a few of the other long-term technical people. There may be things that I just am not thinking of that they would be helpful on.

Harden: We will get back to them. There are several people whom you mentioned that we will be interviewing also for the AIDS piece, and we certainly would like to follow up on this. We are more or less at the end of the interview, but I wanted to ask you if there is anything else that you, personally, would like to say before we stop?

Gallo: No. I do not think that there is anything I can add to all the questions we have been through–science in the future–and so forth. It was a very good opportunity for me and I thank you for it. I congratulate you because it is the first time, as I told you, that I knew that anybody cared about this kind of thing. I used to think that if Marshall Nirenberg ever had a heart attack or something then...

Harden: We lost [Dr. Christian] Chris Anfinsen. We hope to interview Dr. Nirenberg.

Gallo: I know. I was in the same department with Chris Anfinsen. He was one of the people who instigated my being in the department at Hopkins. I was just thinking, what is there after, you do not even know, whereas they [the French] built angels with swords around [the tomb of] Pasteur and of Dr. [Emile] Roux, his assistant. It is very dramatic, night and day. America is funny that way.

I have many thoughts about what I went through and certainly disappointments about leadership, not so much here at NCI, because I do not know if here we could have done much, although a little bit here, but higher up the ladder. I think that is a story in itself, but I will save that for another interview when I am a little older.

Harden: We hope to talk with you again. Thank you so much.

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