It was with great sadness that the Canadian scientific community learned, on April 11, 2017, of the death of Mark Wainberg. Mark was Director of the McGill AIDS Centre and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University. He was also Head of the Laboratory for Research on AIDS at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec. In recognition of the importance of his work in the advancement of public health, in particular with regard to HIV/AIDS research and advocacy, the Journal opened its editorial page to one of his close collaborators in order to share this tribute to a giant in Canadian public health.
Tributes poured in from scientists, clinicians, public health leaders, and community advocates around the world when news broke that Canadian molecular biologist Mark Wainberg had drowned off the Florida coast at Bal Harbour on April 11, 2017. He had been on holiday over Passover with his family when he got into difficulty in rough water. Zev Wainberg, his oncologist son from Los Angeles, tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Initial shock, disbelief and sadness provoked by this senseless tragedy gave way to a deepening appreciation of Mark Wainberg's legacy.
Just in March, Mark had organized and chaired the successful Journees quebecoises sur le VIH in Montreal. A few weeks later, on April 6th, he introduced--as he did each year--the Mark Wainberg Lecture at the Canadian Association for HIV Research conference. Given annually since 2003 by a lead Canadian human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) researcher, the lecture was in recognition of Mark's ongoing contributions to the HIV field and he had always joked about it being 'pre-memorial'. Five days later he was gone, having left a big footprint.
While those who had known him personally were dumbfounded and saddened, countless people around the world did not know that he had played a role in profoundly changing the course of their lives. As McGill's Dean of Medicine David Eidelman stated: "Mark Wainberg had an inestimable impact on the lives of millions of people through his transformative research and extraordinary advocacy." (1) The Executive Director of UNAIDS in Geneva, Michel Sidibe, described him as a "giant of HIV science. His work contributed to saving millions of lives." (2)
Who was Mark Wainberg? At Mark's funeral in Montreal, Zev Wainberg described him as a complicated, humble, brilliant man. Despite this apt description, Mark really fit no mould. He was a basic scientist who had moved well beyond the laboratory to influence policy and programs (3)--but he had begun and continued in the lab. After spending a sabbatical period as a visiting scientist in Robert Gallo's laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in 1980-81, Mark established the first HIV laboratory in Canada. In the mid-80s, he was named to the National Advisory Committee on AIDS, and in 1989 his team was involved in the identification of 3TC, also known as lamivudine. This antiretroviral drug continues to this day to be part of the therapeutic...