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Dr. Mathilde Krim, Hero in the Fight Against HIV, Has Died

Mathilde Krim

The founding chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) has died at 91.

Friends of the famed researcher announced her death on social media yesterday.

Activist Peter Staley said on Facebook: “My greatest AIDS hero died a few hours ago. Dr. Mathilde Krim, founder of amfAR, warrior against homophobia and AIDS-related stigma, dedicated defender of science and public health, and mother-figure and mentor to countless activists, will leave a deep hole in the continued fight against AIDS — a fight she dedicated her life to. She as 91.”

In Los Angeles in 1985, Elizabeth Taylor and Dr. Michael Gottlieb cofounded the National AIDS Research Foundation to research for a cure and help people living with HIV/AIDS. At the same, Krim established the AIDS Medical Research Foundation. These two merged to become amfAR, cofounded by Krim and Gottlieb with Taylor as its international founding chairperson.

With the success of amfAR, and as people with HIV began to live longer, Taylor established the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in 1991 to focus specifically on funding organizations that cared for individuals with HIV or AIDS. Taylor sold her wedding photos to People magazine for $1 million and used the money in its entirety to open the doors of ETAF. To date, more than 650 organizations in 33 countries have been helped through ETAF’s funding efforts.

amfAR’s bio on Krim:

Soon after the first cases of AIDS were reported in 1981, Dr. Mathilde Krim recognized that this new disease raised grave scientific and medical questions and that it might have important socio-political consequences. She dedicated herself to increasing the public’s awareness of AIDS and to a better understanding of its cause, its modes of transmission, and its epidemiologic pattern. Dr. Krim also became personally active in AIDS research through her work with interferons—natural substances now used in the treatment of certain viral and neoplastic diseases.

In April 1983, Dr. Krim founded the AIDS Medical Foundation (AMF), the first private organization concerned with fostering and supporting AIDS research. In 1985, AMF merged with a like-minded group based in California to form the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), which soon became the preeminent national nonprofit organization devoted to mobilizing the public’s generosity in support of trailblazing laboratory and clinical AIDS research, AIDS prevention, and the development of sound, AIDS-related public policies.

Dr. Krim received her Ph.D. from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, in 1953.  From 1953 to 1959, she pursued research in cytogenetics and cancer-causing viruses at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, where she was a member of the team that first developed a method for the prenatal determination of sex.

She moved to New York and joined the research staff of Cornell University Medical School following her marriage in 1958 to the late Arthur B. Krim, a New York attorney, then head of United Artists Motion Picture Company and later founder of Orion Pictures. Starting in 1962, Dr. Krim worked as a research scientist at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and, from 1981–1985, she was the director of its Interferon Laboratory. She now holds the academic appointment of adjunct professor of Public Health and Management, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.

Dr. Krim is amfAR’s founding chair and was, from 1990–2004, the chairman of the board. She holds 16 doctorates honoris causa and has received many other honors and distinctions. In August 2000 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor in the United States.

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