By Ferdous Al-Faruque - 07/21/14 03:36 PM EDT
A top National Institutes of Health Director says Joep Lange, the renowned HIV/AIDS researcher, who died in last week’s downing of Malaysia Flight 17 was one the “most important collaborators” for the agency in its fight against the disease.
Lange was on his way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia when his plane was shot down.
“Many of us in the field have gotten to know [Lange] well and to work with him well, and for that reason so many of us here meeting now in Melbourne are really in a state of shock that we’ve lost him over this very tragic incident with the Malaysian Airline,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci first met Lange at a medical conference over 25 years ago and said the Dutch researcher was one of NIH’s “most important collaborators” in trying to find ways to improve how HIV/AIDS patients receive treatment and to help get treatments to underprivileged people.
“Early on when we were working together in the early parts of the epidemic he was one of the people who really did a lot of work on the natural history of HIV, and understanding the relationship between the level of virus and the damage done to the immune system,” he said.
While Fauci says the research community will push on without Lange, it has lost a powerful mind that helped mentor many researchers in the field and mold research.
“There are many, many people involved in AIDS research and the work will go on despite this terrible tragedy,” he said. “What will be missed most is the fact Joep was such an extraordinary, charismatic personality and a thought leader.”
Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, says she’s known Lange for almost 30 years and last week’s disaster will likely have an initial chilling effect on the AIDS research community because people have lost so many of their colleagues.
“But we also have a very committed community that I think because of the death of some of these very key people I think it’s going to galvanize the community,” she added.
Gayle says part of the reason the AIDS research community will rebound despite the tragedy is because people like Lange have trained a generation of researchers who are able to pick up the gauntlet and carry on with their work.