A doctor, Lange specialized in virology — the study of viruses. As he finished medical school in the early 1980s, a new virus was identified: HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which causes AIDS, or the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. When Lange started working on it, the virus didn’t even have a name; he dedicated his career to finding treatments, a vaccine, and/or a cure. At the start, HIV was a death sentence. Lange helped develop a clinical treatment protocol to prolong lives, including leading the first trials of azidothymidine, or AZT, one of the promising new drugs to treat the syndrome. His next research project was to prevent mother-to-child HIV infection at birth. Lange was so well known in the field that he became president of the International AIDS Society, which holds a bi-annual conference to quickly spread new knowledge about HIV research. Meanwhile, Lange served as a medical professor at the Academic Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam to train new researchers, mentoring more than 30 Ph.D students.
On July 17, Lange jumped on a plane in Amsterdam, on his way to Melbourne, Australia, to speak at this year’s International AIDS Society conference. Somewhere from five to 100 other AIDS researchers, including Lange’s wife Jacqueline van Tongeren of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, were also on board, heading to the conference. Unfortunately, that plane was Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. As the Boeing 777 made its way across the Ukraine, the civilian passenger airliner was shot down, apparently by pro-Russian rebels armed with a Russian Buk surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile. All of the 283 passengers, and 15 crewmembers, were killed. Dr. Joseph “Joep” Lange was 59.