The man who co-discovered the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) passed away on Tuesday, February 8, 2022 aged 89. Dr Luc Montagnier was a French Virologist who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008 for his co-discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus after leading the team at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1983 discovering the virus. There had been debate in the past about who actually discovered HIV, with American Scientist Dr Robert Gallo publishing similar findings . In 2002, the two men publicly agreed to their pivotal roles in the discovery by saying that Dr Montagnier’s French team discovered HIV and that Dr Gallo’s American team first showed its role in causing AIDS.

It was on June 5, 1981 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report newsletter reported unusual cases of pneumonia in 5 gay men in Los Angeles. Over the next 18 months, more clusters were discovered in men in other cities throughout the United States. Although we now know this to be the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the situation was originally referred to as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), as well as some other variations, but was later changed to HIV/AIDS after it was discovered some of the patients were not gay men.

Dr Montagnier published his findings in the journal Science on 20 May 1983, which was the same issue of Science that Dr Gallo published his findings in, later confirming the discovery of the virus and presented evidence that it caused AIDS. This created a debate about who actually discovered HIV first, as both findings were published in the same journal, but it was agreed that Dr Montagnier’s group first isolated HIV and Dr Gallo’s group discovered that the virus causes AIDS, because Dr Montagnier’s group stated that HIV’s role in causing AIDS remains to be determined.

The discovery made by Dr Montagnier, who was the director of the Viral Oncology Unit at the Pasteur Institute began in Paris on January 3, 1983 when he received a piece of lymph node that had been removed from a 33 year-old man with AIDS. Dr. Willy Rozenbaum was the patients doctor and he asked Dr. Montagnier to examine the specimen, as he was an expert in retroviruses and it was believed the the disease was caused by retroviruses.

From the sample provided, Dr. Montagnier’s team spotted the culprit, which was a retrovirus that had never been seen before and they named it L.A.V., for Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus. This finding was reported in the May 20, 1983, issue of the journal Science, concluding that further studies were necessary to prove L.A.V. caused AIDS. Dr. Gallo called his virus H.T.L.V.-III and in 1986, L.A.V. and H.T.L.V.-III became known as HIV.

If you are wanting to learn more about the history and discovery of HIV/AIDS, you might be interested in watching “And The Band Played On”, which was a television docudrama produced by Spelling Entertainment and released in 1993 based on the best-selling book 1987 non-fiction book “And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic” by Randy Shilts. This television docudrama includes actors who play the characters of Dr Montagnier and Dr Gallo, so if you haven’t scene this before, you might be interested in taking a look.

Further Reading:

Featured Photo: Dr Luc Montagnier at a Press Conference on December 6, 2008 / Wiki Commons.
Article ID: CC027
Version Control: 1.0 – February 11, 2022: Original article published.

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