David Baltimore studied viruses and the immune system in the US during the twentieth century. In 1975, Baltimore was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering reverse transcriptase, the enzyme used to transfer information from RNA to DNA. The discovery of reverse transcriptase contradicted the central dogma of biology at the time, which stated that the transfer of information was unidirectional from DNA, RNA, to protein. Baltimore’s research on reverse transcriptase led to the discovery of retroviruses, which accelerated the development of treatments for human immunodeficiency virus or HIV and cancer vaccines. Baltimore also influenced public policy and opinion on genetic engineering. In 1975, he helped organize the Asilomar Conference in Pacific Grove, California, which discussed the regulation of recombinant DNA or the DNA created using multiple sources of genetic material. Baltimore’s research demonstrated how retroviruses replicate and infect cells, and his influence on the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA has guided discussions about regulating biotechnology.

Ian Hector Frazer studied the human immune system and vaccines in Brisbane, Australia, and helped invent and patent the scientific process and technology behind what later became the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US, or CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and can lead to genital warts, as well as cervical, head, mouth, and neck cancers. Frazer and virologist Jian Zhou conducted research in the 1990s to assess why women with HPV had higher rates of precancerous and cancerous cervical cells. Frazer’s research led the pharmaceutical company Merck to produce the Gardasil vaccination series, and GlaxoSmithKline to produce the Cervarix vaccination. Frazer’s research contributed to the development of HPV vaccinations that have been successful in reducing up to seventy percent of cervical cancer cases in women.

On 1 October 1995, Steven Epstein published “The Construction of Lay Expertise: AIDS Activism and the Forging of Credibility in the Reform of Clinical Trials,” hereafter “Lay Expertise,” in the journal Science, Technology, & Human Values. In the article, Epstein shows how particular activists in the 1980s helped reform government-run clinical trials for people with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Those activists did that work at a time when AIDS was widespread among communities of gay men, and there were no treatments available to combat the disease. Epstein documents how AIDS activists gained credibility in the eyes of the scientific establishment through specific tactics of engagement. “Lay Expertise” laid a foundation for understanding how AIDS movement activism transformed the field of biomedicine, and paved the way for additional research on illness-related social movements, such as those related to infertility and embryonic stem cell research.