First Avenue in New York City may not have the glamour of Fifth but the research that has emanated from a 14-storey, 50-year-old building located between 26th and 27th Street has done more for humanity than all the shopping spend between 49th and 60th Street on Fifth. That is where, against the backdrop of constant siren-wailing of ambulances streaming into Bellevue Hospital Center, the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center (ADARC), headed by scientific director and CEO David Ho, does its work.
Ho’s persistence in the laboratory helped him understand HIV replication and figure out a more effective way of halting its advance. It took him from 1989 to about 1995 to fully comprehend and then convince the world that the virus was highly dynamic. Since it mutated quickly and developed variants, one needed to attack it from multiple perspectives to try and prevent mutation. When the findings were applied in therapy, the outcome was unprecedented. The ‘cocktail therapy’ that Ho first advocated is now standard procedure.
Little wonder, then, Ho’s 7th floor office is littered with awards. Citations, trophies and medals jostle for space on adjoining shelves but there is one that holds pride of place: the Presidential Citizens Medal awarded to Ho by former president Bill Clinton on January 8, 2001. The citation notes, “His groundbreaking work using protease inhibitors in combination with standard therapies has ensured that thousands of people with AIDS live longer and healthier lives.”
Ho explains why this award is extra special, “Irene got many medals herself but she appreciated the ones that I received on behalf of the institute more, because it really impacted a lot of people throughout the world.” Ho is referring to Irene, wife of real estate magnate Aaron Diamond. While Ho’s accomplishment is truly exemplary, it would not have been possible but for the magnanimity of Aaron and Irene Diamond. Their story is not as well known as it should be. That narration will play out shortly, but first a look at how the very act of giving has evolved over the years.
Modern-day America has successfully exported quite a few icons: cars, blue jeans, cola, sneakers, movies, retail and fast food chains. But one prominent edifice, personal philanthropy, is yet to