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Winter 1999

The Scientist and the Cure
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Determined to solve this mystery, she embarked on a study of 32 exposed uninfected men. The study was of such great scientific import as well as such general interest that it drew the attention of a writer for The New Yorker, who described Giorgi's research in a lengthy story in July 1998. At the time the results were not yet known but seemed promising. Scientists had found only one trait -- a genetic defect associated with resistance -- but this mutation was found in only about 4 percent of uninfected men. There wasn't any explanation for the majority.

"When I started my study on cellular immunity to HIV, I thought everybody who had been exposed would have it," says Giorgi. "If I looked in the lymph nodes, I thought I would find this in everybody. But I didn't find it convincingly in anybody. If these men are protected, it's not because of an immune response localized to the lymph nodes. Or if it were ever there, it didn't last very long."

Asked if she was disappointed by that finding, Giorgi retreats into one of her long pauses. Sitting at her desk, her head cupped in one hand, she looks away, her dark brows furrowing. Giorgi likes to consider questions carefully and often takes several minutes before she answers. "It just makes me more puzzled," she finally says. "Puzzled about whether it's a short-term immunity so we don't see it, or puzzled about whether we're looking for the wrong thing. I don't know.'

But by the time The New Yorker article was published, Giorgi had more pressing concerns. On the day the magazine came out, she was in a hospital bed, racked with nausea, an IV dripping chemo drugs into her veins.

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