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Luc Montagnier

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Luc Montagnier
(August 18, 1932 - )
Born in France
Year of Discovery: 1983

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Image Courtesy: Lasker Foundation

First to Find Cause of AIDS

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) burst onto the scene in the early 1980s and quickly captured the attention of the medical community and the world. They knew they were up against a deadly killer, but had no idea what caused this horrible disease. A French physician, Willy Rozenbaum, had speculated that a retrovirus might be responsible for the disease.  A retrovirus is a name for a particular type of virus and it is hard to detect until it has already taken up residence in someone or infected them.  Rozenbaum turned to Luc Montagnier, an expert on retroviruses, for help. Montagnier and his team confirmed that the underlying cause of AIDS was a retrovirus, which they initially named lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV). This was later renamed HIV, by international agreement. Montagnier's discovery led to the development of a laboratory test to detect the presence of HIV in blood samples.

Human immunodeficiency virus originated in West Africa, with the first confirmed case being recorded in 1959. The virus slowly spread across Africa and then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, exploded throughout other parts of the world. HIV is the underlying cause of AIDS, a disease that attacks the immune system, and is passed from person to person through contact with bodily fluids. As AIDS progresses, individuals become less able to ward off infections and fall prey to a variety of opportunistic diseases. Among the common diseases initially associated with AIDS was Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer that can affect both internal organs and the skin. Victims also began showing up at emergency rooms with a variety of flu-like symptoms and an unusual form of pneumonia known as pneumocystis. Health officials initially thought the disease was limited to homosexual men living in large metropolitan areas. But, they quickly discovered that both hemophiliacs and heterosexual intravenous drug users were also being infected. Not knowing the underlying cause of AIDS sent a panic throughout communities. There was a great deal of confusion about how AIDS was spread and whether it could be prevented. And, most significantly, there was no way to detect or treat it. Montagnier's discovery of HIV came at a critical time, as world health authorities struggled to contain the spread of AIDS. Based on his findings, blood tests were developed to detect the presence of HIV in blood samples. This led to direct identification of AIDS patients, who then could be treated. It also led to a means to test blood donations for the HIV virus. This testing of blood supplies has reduced the risk of acquiring HIV through a blood donation to one in 2.5 million in the United States.

Rozenbaum had a theory about the origin of HIV, but he needed Montagnier's expertise to take his theory to the next level. So, Rozenbaum sent a tissue sample taken from one of his patients to Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute. Montagnier and his team took the lymph node tissue, dissected it, and made a culture from it. They continued to work with the culture over several weeks, looking for an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. This presence of this enzyme would confirm they were dealing with a retrovirus. A retrovirus, essentially, uses the genetic code of viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) to form deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This allows the original virus, now housed within the DNA, to become permanently established in the host organism. Once the virus is housed within the host's cells, it can then sustain itself and multiply throughout the host's system. In the case of HIV, this multiplication of abnormal cells sets in motion the disabling of the immune system. Montagnier was right - he and his team found the enzyme that proved they were dealing with a retrovirus. This then allowed them to isolate the virus, which they called lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV). Though later renamed HIV by international agreement, it was Montagnier's discovery that provided the critical breakthrough in the fight against this deadly disease. His effort led directly to the development of a test to detect the presence of HIV in the blood. It also led to widespread testing of blood donations and a vastly safer worldwide blood supply.

Montagnier developed an interest in science at an early age. His father, an accountant, was a bit of an amateur scientist and often conducted experiments in their home's basement on Sundays. Montagnier relished working in the makeshift laboratory and, at the age of 14, began conducting his own experiments with nitroglycerine.  Luckily, he didn’t blow anything up and lived to help millions of people.

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Introduction by Tim Anderson


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Table of Contents

Introduction
Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Anecdotes
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Awards
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject
Sources

 








Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

faqs.org biography:
http://www.faqs.org/health/bios/61/Luc-Montagnier.html

virusmyth.com interview with Montagnier:
http://www.virusmyth.com/aids/hiv/dtinterviewlm.htm

About.com profile:
http://aids.about.com/od/themindsofhivaids/p/montagnier.htm

Wikipedia entry:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luc_Montagnier




Sliders & Images here




Image Flow Here




Key Insight




Key Experiments or Research

 



Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: AIDS
Acquired Immune
Deficiency Syndrome
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
A retrovirus expert, she was the first to isolate the AIDS virus.
Gervais Dionne
Co-developed the effective AIDS drug 3TC, which had fewer side effects than AZT.
Bernard Belleau
Co-developed the effective AIDS drug 3TC, which had fewer side effects than AZT.
Francesco Bellini
Co-developed the effective AIDS drug 3TC, which had fewer side effects than AZT.
Nghe Nguyen-Ga
Co-developed the effective AIDS drug 3TC, which had fewer side effects than AZT.





Quotes by the Scientist




Quotes About the Scientist




Anecdotes




Fun Trivia About the Science




The Science Behind the Discovery



Personal Information



Scientific Discovery Timeline




Recommended Books About the Science




Books by the Scientist




Books About the Scientist

 



Awards




Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist



Curriculum Vitae



Links to Information on the Science





Sources/References