French virologist Luc Montagnier, one of the discoverers of HIV, died Tuesday at the age of 89 at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, next to Paris, French media announced Thursday. Despite the fact that in 2008 he had received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for having managed to isolate HIV for the first time in the 80s of the last century, in recent years he had fallen into disgrace after controversial statements in the scientific field.
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The father of three children, he was born in Chabris, in the center of France, on August 18, 1932. In 1967 he was appointed Head of Research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and five years later at the Viral Oncology Unit of the Institute Pasteur of Paris.
Between 1980 and 1984, Montagnier and his team at Pasteur isolated numerous human retroviruses from patients with sexual infections, hemophiliacs, mothers who had transmitted it to their children, and people infected in transfusions. In 1983 they managed to isolate a virus that they initially called VAL (lymphadenopathy-associated virus) and that was later identified as the virus that causes AIDS and was called HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
Montagnier also presented a blood test capable of detecting the antibodies of said virus and, in collaboration with doctors Jean-Claude Chermann and Francoise Barré-Sinoussi, published a work describing the virus. In 1984, however, the North American Robert Gallo claimed responsibility for the discovery of HIV for his team, which gave rise to a controversy that lasted several years and was settled with the recognition of both as fathers of said discovery.
In addition to being one of the discoverers of AIDS, the virologist worked in prestigious scientific institutes: he was director emeritus of the CNRS, director of the Center for Molecular and Cellular Biology at Queens College in New York, professor at the Institut Pasteur or director of a research institute from Jiao-tong University.
Controversial statements about AIDS or COVID-19
For more than ten years, as recalled this Thursday the French newspaper Le Monde, Montagnier had lost part of his prestige with controversial statements far removed from scientific orthodoxy. He argued, for example, that Africans would have fewer problems with AIDS if they had a more balanced diet, or he proposed to cure Pope John Paul II, who had Parkinson’s disease, with fermented papaya.
In November 2017, his public position against the compulsory vaccination of children led to a public denunciation by 106 medical academics, and in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, he stated that the virus that caused COVID-19 was a human fabrication.
Montagnier, as indicated by the Pasteur Institute in his biography, participated in the creation of several biotechnology companies in the United States and France, and is the author or co-author of 350 scientific publications and more than 750 patents.