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Report: French Say 8-Year-Old Lab Mistake Bolsters AIDS Virus Claim

May 6, 1991

CHICAGO (AP) _ The dispute over who first isolated the AIDS virus continues with French scientists reporting they uncovered an 8-year-old laboratory mistake that bolsters their claims, a newspaper says.

Now it’s up to U.S. researcher Robert Gallo to show the AIDS virus he isolated later at the National Institutes of Health came from an American patient and not from a sample of the French virus sent to him from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the Chicago Tribune said Sunday.

Gallo and the French scientists have long feuded over who first isolated the virus.

Gallo’s telephone at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., went unanswered Sunday. His home number is unlisted.

The French scientists’ findings will be published in the journal Science, the newspaper said. It said it obtained a copy of the manuscript.

Most scientists have long believed that the virus the French isolated in early 1983, called LAV-1, or LAV-Bru, is the same as the one Gallo isolated months later, named HTLV-IIIB.

Gallo stunned the scientific world in February when he reported his analysis of the remains of a sample sent to him from Paris showed its DNA sequences were distinctly different both from those the French scientists published about the virus in 1985 and from his own HTLV-IIIB.

If Gallo’s analysis is correct, it that would mean the French sample was not the the source of Gallo’s HTLV-IIIB discovery.

The French re-checked their research a few weeks ago and discovered that they had mislabeled their samples, the Tribune said.

The French sent Gallo samples of a virus labeled LAV-Bru in 1983, months before Gallo discovered HTLV-IIIB. Bru was the code name for the fashion designer the virus came from.

By retracing their steps, the French scientists discovered that a virus isolated from a second French AIDS patient in 1983 had contaminated a culture in their laboratory where the designer’s virus was being grown.

The second virus was named LAV-Lai, for a young French law student.

Because of the mixup, samples of the isolated virus the French supplied to labs around the world have been misidentified as LAV-Bru, rather than LAV-Lai.

Gallo used HTLV-IIIB to make a blood test for AIDS that was patented by the U.S. government. The patent earns millions for the Treasury and $100,000 a year each in royalties for Gallo and former colleague Mikulas Popovic.

The Pasteur Institute sued the U.S. government in 1985, claiming the two viruses were the same and that the French deserved the patent.

Without resolving the question of whether the two viruses were the same, the two sides settled out of court in 1987 when the American and French governments agreed to share the royalties equally.

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