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Out of Prison, Nobelist Heads for Europe

28 April 1998 7:00 pm
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Scientists in half a dozen countries have been vying to work with Nobel laureate D. Carleton Gajdusek, who was released from prison this week after serving a year on charges of child sexual abuse. Gajdusek immediately jetted off for the Continent, where he has enough offers to keep him busy indefinitely.

Gajdusek shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1976 for his groundbreaking research into kuru, a brain disease similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy that affected tribes in New Guinea. In 1996, the virologist was charged with sexually abusing a teenaged Micronesian boy living in his home (Science, 12 April 1996, p. 203). After pleading guilty in February 1997 as part of a plea bargain, Gajdusek resigned as chief of the National Institutes of Health's Laboratory of Central Nervous System Studies and was later sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Now that he's free, Gajdusek "wishes to roll around among different labs like Diogenes in a barrel, as he expressed it," says Georg Klein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where Gajdusek is expected to show up in July. Then, in September, he will begin a 6-month visiting professorship at the Department of Human Retrovirology of the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, arranged by virologist and AIDS researcher Jaap Goudsmit. Says Goudsmit, who worked as a postdoc in Gajdusek's lab from 1979 to 1981, "I'm very fond of him. He is still very smart and he knows a lot about viruses. It will be wonderful to have him."

Gajdusek also has invitations from labs in Norway, Finland, France, Germany, and Israel. Ephraim Katzir, former Israeli president and a biochemist at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot says Gajdusek has promised to visit. "We want him here for a month or two," says Katzir. "He is an excellent scientist; We are not interested in his private life."

Gajdusek was not available for comment. His lawyer, Mark J. Hulkower of the Washington, D.C., firm of Steptoe and Johnson, says Gajdusek's plans are confidential but confirms his client "will travel the world and dedicate his life to science." Klein says if anything, Gajdusek's time in jail has enhanced his value. "He was doing an incredible amount of reading and writing. ... I think it was probably the most concentrated and productive time of his life."

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