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Winter 1999

The Scientist and the Cure
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After earning her degree at the University of Florida, Giorgi applied to several graduate schools. She had never been to the Southwest, but she'd seen pictures and the stark, open landscape appealed to her. So when the University of New Mexico wooed her with an attractive offer, she headed west.

It was, in retrospect, a beautiful move. The field of immunology was in its infancy, and the University of New Mexico was full of opportunities. Giorgi not only did her formative work in cellular immunology there, she began developing her skills in flow cytometry. Ellen Goldberg, Giorgi's graduate adviser, still laughs when she recalls the 25-year-old's memorable arrival in 1972. Giorgi blew into Albuquerque in a dark blue 1962 Cadillac, all her worldly belongings loaded inside, including a six-foot boa constrictor coiled in one of her cowboy boots.

Giorgi has a bit of a wild streak. She drives an '89 Ford mustang convertible and has been known to pack her beloved golden retriever Choppers into a '78 Dodge van and head down to Baja for a few weeks of solitude along the Sea of Cortez. Every year on her birthday, she and Keith take off for a long ride on his classic Harley, a black Sturgis belt-drive, the same bike on which he arrived for their first date in the summer of 1981, when she was a visiting scientist at Stanford. In her office, there's a photo showing Giorgi with two other women researchers at a party; they're decked out in short blue satin evening gowns and big hairdos, a la the Supremes.

Giorgi finished her doctorate in 1977, and spent a brief stint at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1984, she was lured to UCLA by a unique opportunity. Just getting under way was the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, an ambitious research project on the natural history of AIDS being conducted at four universities. The young scientist was tapped to set up the project's flow cytometry lab and do research.

Although at first Giorgi focused her attention on the virus, she soon switched to the immune system when she noticed something extraordinary going on. Some men, despite hundreds of exposures to HIV, were not getting sick. In fact, they were staying amazingly healthy. Giorgi surmised that there must be something about their immune systems that was protecting them from HIV. But what? Giorgi believed it was probably a genetic component.

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