“When I look back on my career, I always feel that the most important contribution of my life was political and not scientific” -- Mark Wainberg, 1945-2017

In 1990 a group of McGill researchers, led by Dr. Mark Wainberg, came together to form the McGill AIDS Centre. They were united in their resolve to find solutions to the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic. At the time, only 9 years after the first case of AIDS had been reported, 10 million people were already infected with HIV globally. There was no effective treatment available, morbidity and mortality from AIDS were rapidly increasing, and HIV-infected people were highly stigmatized.

Dr. Wainberg, the Centre’s only director until his sudden and untimely death in 2017, together with the other founding members of the McGill AIDS Centre understood early on that HIV/AIDS was a multi-faceted disease that would require collaborative and inter-disciplinary solutions. In this spirit, they brought together McGill researchers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines (e.g., virology and molecular biology, infectious diseases, immunology, medicine, nursing, and social sciences) with the following aims:

  1. To create a broader knowledge base in HIV/AIDS by bringing together researchers, medical professionals, and representatives of other disciplines;
  2. To educate and train persons concerned with studying, treating and/or living with HIV/AIDS; and
  3. To advance research in virology and immune responses, treatments, natural history and the social impact of HIV/AIDS.

In all, over 30 McGill faculty members were ultimately appointed to the Centre, coming from McGill Departments of Medicine, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Pediatrics, Dentistry, Epidemiology, Ethics and Law, Nursing, and Social Science.

The office of the McGill AIDS Centre was located at the Lady Davis Institute, the Jewish General Hospital, where Dr. Wainberg spent his entire career. The Centre was mandated to coordinate and integrate medical educational activities and research, both in laboratory and clinical settings, and to establish specialized research laboratories able to support work with HIV. In the ensuing three decades, HIV research at McGill has grown to encompass over eight fundamental HIV research groups and large HIV clinical research, trial and health outcomes teams. During this time, Dr. Wainberg became a preeminent figure in the HIV field in Canada and worldwide. In addition to his pioneering research in the discovery of anti-HIV-1 drugs and drug resistance, Dr. Wainberg served two terms as the president of International AIDS Society (IAS), and brought the IAS conference to Durban, South Africa in 2000, thereby focusing the world’s attention on the devastating AIDS epidemic in Africa. His contributions to HIV research and HIV treatment have been well recognized by the many prestigious awards he received, including the Order of Canada (2001), Prix du Québec (2010), the Killam Prize (2012), and Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (2016). His leadership inspired the expansion and diversification of HIV/AIDS research across McGill. Many members of the McGill AIDS Centre have themselves earned national and international recognition, and have positioned McGill as a leading institution in the fight against HIV epidemic.

Under the leadership of Dr. Wainberg, members of the McGill AIDS Centre have made remarkable contribution over the past three decades to the understanding of the cause of AIDS, the development of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection, and the clinical management of this terrible disease. While HIV infection has now become a manageable, chronic medical condition, it is still incurable, affecting 37 million people worldwide. HIV did not emerge alone. In the past decades, we have witnessed the outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, Yellow Fever, Dengue, and Influenza viruses, in addition to other viral diseases affecting billions of people. It is never more urgent than now to expand the current mandate of the McGill AIDS Centre and unite the talented McGill researchers under a new Centre for Viral Diseases, to discover solutions to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and forthcoming new viral pandemics in the future.

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