Robert Gallo, head of a laboratory at the US National Cancer Institute near Washington, won scientific awards following his claim. He became an international celebrity, dined with Elizabeth Taylor and had an audience with the Pope.
Now, in a finding it calls 'a tragedy for science', a US government inquiry into the 1984 research has found that Dr Gallo knowingly reported false information which had the effect of promoting his findings at the expense of a laboratory in France. The Office of Research Integrity - an investigative arm of the US Department of Health and Human Services - says he wanted to hide a critical fact that would have given credit to the Pasteur Institute.
Discovering the Aids virus led to a blood test which earned millions of dollars in royalties, shared between the US government - Dr Gallo's employer - and the Pasteur Institute.
In 1984 Dr Gallo said he had been unable to grow a sample of the virus given to him by the French team. The misconduct inquiry has concluded that this was 'knowingly false when written' and accuses Dr Gallo of concealing important information which would have been helpful to other scientists. 'The misrepresentation had the potential to impede the rapid advancement of research efforts,' the inquiry concludes.
Dr Gallo is also found guilty of 'irresponsible laboratory management that has permanently impaired the ability to trace the important steps taken' in Aids research and of imposing 'restrictive conditions' on access to scientific reagents needed by other medical researchers. 'Overall, (the Office of Research Integrity) finds that the events surrounding the discovery of the Aids virus and the development of a blood test are highly regrettable and unfortunate,' the report concludes.
Dr Gallo has said he intends to appeal against the report, which 'could only take issue with a few trivial mistakes and a single sentence written by me'. He added: 'The mindless pursuit of fantasised misconduct can have devastating consequences for scientific research.'
Nevertheless, Dr Gallo faces a wider investigation by a Congressional sub-committee, which intends to review allegations that he misappropriated the French virus, and of a possible high-level cover-up. Another investigation is being mounted into allegations that he gave false information on a patent application - a possible criminal offence.
Lawyers for the Pasteur Institute, meanwhile, intend to press for a greater share in royalties on the Aids blood test.
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