Medical Community Mourns Loss Of AIDS Research Leader

Jul 18, 2014

Seattle’s medical and research community is mourning the death of dozens of HIV researchers killed in the Malaysia Air crash Thursday.  The group was en route to Australia for the International Aids Conference.  

One of the victims of the Malaysia Air crash was Dr. Joep Lange, a leading AIDS researcher. Dr. Larry Corey, former president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said his work was defined by doing what’s best for people — the patients. “He had a wonderful moral compass,” he said. "I think that was one of his great strengths.”

Dr. King Holmes, head of the University of Washington’s Center for AIDS Research, echoed that. "There are people in the field who are respected for the work they’ve done," Holmes said. "But he was respected for the person.”

One of Lange’s legacies is expanding AIDS treatment and research into Africa. Dr. Connie Celum is professor of global health and medicine at the University of Washington. She’s known Lange for more than 10 years, and is familiar with his work and its impact in Africa, where she’s done HIV prevention trials. 

“One of his more famous quotes was, 'If we could bring Coke to the farthest reaches of the earth, we should be able to bring HIV treatment,'” Celum said.

Celum  said the challenges of bringing treatment to Africa included getting cheaper drugs, training health care providers, and setting up a health system to support that. “He had a wide network of people that he collaborated with,” she said. “So many of the people I collaborate with were also influenced by him.”

Celum said it will take time to clearly see what impact his death and the death of other HIV researchers and advocates will have on the community. But their loss will be felt for a long time.