DR ABRAHAM KARPAS is a very angry scientist. ''Have this,'' he says,

thrusting another paper at me. ''The American side of the Aids scandal

has been documented, but not the British side. And in Scotland you were

robbed of the chance to do something.''

The distinguished Zurich-educated virologist, assistant director of

research at Cambridge University's department of haematological medicine

is at the centre of a bloody scientific fight about the discovery of

Aids and the undue delays in taking action against it. Essentially it's

about immortality. The disease could be with humanity forever, and those

who work on it will get their names in the history books through Nobel


The argument has been raised to popular prominence internationally by

an event unparalleled in newspaper history. In November the Chicago

Tribune published a special 50,000-word Aids Report by Pulitzer Prize

journalist John Crewdson. It took him nearly two years to prepare, and

among those he consulted was Abraham Karpas.

Was the discovery of Aids a French or American first in 1983? The

contest was between Professor Luc Montagnier in Paris and Dr Robert

Gallo in Washington. Crewdson described Dr Gallo as ''an influential and

intimidating scientist who chased the wrong virus for more than a year,

only to reverse course and emerge with a virtual genetic twin of the

virus that had really been discovered by his rivals in Paris and

delivered to him months before.'' Karpas says that he wanted to follow

up Montagnier's work, and wrote to Middlesex Hospital Medical School,

asking for blood samples from Aids patients. The reply was that research

was proceeding satisfactorily under two groups of scientists, and so

''we do not see a justification to increase the number of collaborating


But Karpas proceeded with his research. ''I was the first to isolate

the virus in the UK in 1983. When I tried to get serum from Aids

patients in May, I was blocked. That was part of the tragic consequence

of the lost year.'' Karpas says that he encountered great difficulty in

getting his work published, because Gallo was the mentor of the British

scientific establishment. But worse was to follow, he maintains.

According to Karpas, the crucial study by the French team should have

been published in Nature in the summer of 1983 but was blocked by

another Aids researcher, Robert Weiss of the Institute of Cancer

Research, Chester Beatty Laboratories, London. ''The paper was blocked

because Weiss worked with Gallo,'' Karpas claims. Weiss vehemently

denies he saw such a paper.

Karpas says that these factors contributed to the tragic ''lost year''

in Aids research. ''Scotland was in a position not to have had any

haemophiliacs affected.''

Today is the deadline in England for the issue of writs against the

Government by infected haemophiliacs. The identification of contaminated

blood dates back to 1982, in Atlanta. Why was there not an alert in


''Even after the virus was discovered we continued to be helpless,

because mass screening with tests didn't come in till 1985,'' Professor

Weiss says. ''The only thing you can say -- and this is my understanding

of what the litigation might be about -- if there's evidence of any form

of infectious agent, couldn't plasma for factor V111 for haemophiliacs

have been pasteurised -- treated by heat -- in a way that might kill an

unknown virus without damaging the clotting factor? Almost everything

else -- whether that paper existed or not -- is a red herring.''

John Maddox, editor of Nature magazine, says: ''Since it was clear

that the focus of the disease was in the United States in 1983, the

health authorities in particular ought to have been careful in importing

blood from there. Plainly they were not.''

A 26-year-old man is suing the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service for

#200,000, alleging that he was given HIV-contaminated blood during an

operation in 1985, and a 37-year-old Edinburgh woman is considering

similar action after contracting HIV in hospital in 1984.

Who was first, the French or Americans? The battle was withdrawn from

the American courts, and on March 31, 1987, President Reagan and Prime

Minister Chirac of France made an important announcement. A 23-page

written agreement shared the credit between the Americans and the


But the fight against the virus goes on. ''There's practically no

progress,'' Karpas says. ''It's the most difficult virus to tackle.

There's no other virus that actually kills the immune cells. As if this

isn't bad enough, it can infect and kill the brain. Once you become

infected you remain a carrier for life. And even if you develop an

effective immune system, the virus keeps changing. It's going to finish

most of black Africa; it's going to finish a large part of South


He's giving a lecture at Heriot-Watt University on Aids in early

March, and we discuss the fact that Edinburgh prostitutes are spreading

the infection. Karpas says that we've been too complacent in Britain

about the heterosexual spread of Aids, and he's put his recommendations

to a committee of MPs.

''There should be compulsory testing for certain groups, like drug

addicts. In Sweden prostitutes who keep practising can be locked in. I

agree, because they don't have a right to spread such a deadly virus to

the population. Give them enough money to keep them.

''Anyone who comes to a hospital, or who wants to get married, or

becomes pregnant should be tested, with other people on a voluntary

basis.'' But he concedes that homosexuals could be economically

disadvantaged, with insurance companies wanting to know the results of a


When I tell him that homosexuals were blamed -- erroneously, it now

turns out -- for spreading the infection in Edinburgh in the early

eighties, he says: ''In due course the homosexual story will be history.

We should actually be grateful to the homosexuals, because if it hadn't

been for them, the virus would have spread to a far greater extent in

heterosexuals before people realised that something was going wrong.

''Homosexuals are a clustered, highly promiscuous society. Through

anal intercourse they managed to get a high rate of infection early on

without a high rate of disease early on. In a closed society it was

evident that it must be an infectious agent, whereas in heterosexuals it

would have taken years to discover this, with one infected here, another

infected there.''

What hope of a vaccine? He makes a zero sign with his fingers.

''That's because the virus continues to mutate; because we know from

monkey studies that you can immunise an animal, but if you charge it

with a live virus, it can still become infected.

''Secondly, how are you going to prove a vaccine's efficacy? Are you

going to charge people with it? You couldn't charge them with a live

virus, so you can never really prove it's any good. If you start

vaccinating everybody, you'll end up by not having blood donors, because

everyone will be positive in varying degrees.''