The 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to François Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for their discovery of HIV.
On October 6, 2008, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinski Institutet announced the 2008 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine would be shared by Harald zur Hausen, for the discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cance,r and François Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The Discovery of the Virus that Causes AIDS
In 1981, medical reports of a new immodeficiency syndrome made their way around the world. Scientist began searching for the cause of the disease that had suddenly begun to kill hundreds of patients. At the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier began their search for the virus that was causing the deadly disease.
After observing patients in the early stages of AIDS, Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier observed that the patients had enlarged lymph nodes.This observation yielded great results as they searched for a virus that could cause this symptom. In 1983, the pair was able to successfully isolate the virus they called lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV). Later, the name LAV would be changed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS was the beginning of a number of advances in HIV research. Perhaps one of the most important developments is the ability to test blood for the virus. Before this discovery, blood banks had no way of screening their blood for HIV, causing a number of HIV infections through blood transfusions. There was also no way to test possible HIV cases during the early stages.
Controversy Over the Discovery of HIV
Though the Nobel Prize committee has deemed Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier the discoverers of HIV, this topic has been hotly contested in the scientific community. American scientist Robert Gallo is considered a co-discoverer of the virus. Gallo may not have been the first to identify the virus, but his research identified HIV as the cause of AIDS.
Throughout the 1980s, the scientist and their countries fought over who should hold the title as the discoverer of HIV. In 1986, American President Ronald Regan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac signed a declaration stating that all three were co-discoverers and officially changed the name of both the American and French identified virus to HIV.
About the Award Winners
François Barré-Sinoussi was born July 30, 1947. She is a virologist working as the director of the Unité de Régulation des Infections Rétrovirales at the Institut Pateur in Paris, France. She has served as a consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN).
Luc Montagnier was born on August 18, 1932. He is the co-founder of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and co-director of the Program for International Viral Collaborations.