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Researchers desperately seek the cause of AIDS

In the early 1980s doctors began noticing rare cancers and infections striking otherwise healthy young gay men. Something was destroying their immune systems — something fatal and possibly contagious. At first it was called the 'gay plague.' Then others began dying: Haitians, intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and heterosexuals. Fear, confusion and prejudice reigned as the disease eventually known as AIDS grew from a mystery to an epidemic. This topic contains discussion of a sexual nature. The medical information in the clips was believed accurate at the time of broadcast, but may have changed.

Researchers think a virus causes AIDS, but they can't prove it. Until a virus is isolated they can't develop a test for the disease, let alone work on a vaccination or even a cure. There is encouraging news on several fronts: an AIDS-like virus is identified in monkeys, and experimental drugs show signs of prolonging the life of AIDS patients. For molecular biologist Cy Gabradilla, the quest has become an obsession, as we see in this clip from CBC Television.
. In 1983 scientists at France's Institut Pasteur under Dr. Luc Montagnier isolated a virus they called LAV, which they believed to be the cause of AIDS. But in 1984, Dr. Robert Gallo of the U.S. National Institutes of Health claimed the cause of AIDS was a virus called HTLV-III, for which he had developed a blood test. The viruses were the same, and soon called HIV (human immunodeficiency virus.)

. For years both laboratories claimed credit for the discovery. It was not until 1994 that American officials conceded that Gallo had used the French virus to develop the HIV test, and agreed to share both credit and royalties for the test.
. The development of a test for HIV helped doctors diagnose patients earlier, screen blood donations and slow the spread of AIDS.

. When the virus was first identified in 1983, hopes ran high that a vaccine against the disease was just a year or two away and that a cure might eventually follow. But by 2002 there was still no cure for AIDS, though potential vaccinations against HIV were being tested in Canada.

. HIV is a part of a group of viruses called lentiviruses, many of which are found in primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees. Most researchers believe that HIV descended from a monkey lentivirus called SIV (simian immuniodeficiency virus) that somehow crossed over into humans.
. Even two decades after it first appeared, there are many conspiracy theories surrounding HIV. Some say it was a result of genetic engineering, or was manufactured by the CIA.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: March 5, 1984
Guest(s): Paul Clift, Donald Francis, Cy Gabradilla
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Eve Savory
Duration: 4:52

Last updated: July 20, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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