French scientist Luc Montagnier, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his co-discovery of the HIV virus that causes AIDS, has died aged 89, the mayor of the Paris suburb where he was hospitalized said Thursday to AFP.
Montagnier died Tuesday at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, northwest of central Paris, its mayor Jean-Christophe Fromantin said, confirming reports in the Francesoir and Liberation newspapers.
Fromantin said he was in possession of the death certificate.
Montagnier shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with colleague Francoise Barre-Sinoussi for their “discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus” (HIV), which causes AIDS.
But he was marginalized by the scientific community in later years as he took increasingly outlandish positions, particularly against vaccines.
His pariah status only rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he claimed the virus was lab-made and vaccines were responsible for the emergence of variants.
Luc Montagnier: HIV discoverer who ended an outcast
French researcher Luc Montagnier, who has died aged 89, shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his important early discoveries on AIDS but was later dismissed by the scientific community for his increasingly outlandish theories, particularly on COVID-19.
Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi shared the 2008 Nobel Prize for their work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in isolating the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Her achievement accelerated the path to HIV testing and antiretroviral drugs that keep the deadly pathogen in check.
AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome – first came to public attention in 1981 when US doctors noted an unusual death toll among young gay men in California and New York.
Montagnier had a bitter rivalry with US scientist Robert Gallo in his pioneering work in identifying HIV at the virology department he founded in Paris in 1972.
Both are credited with discovering that HIV causes AIDS, and their competing claims led to a legal and even diplomatic dispute between France and the United States for several years.
Montagnier’s work began in January 1983, when tissue samples arrived at the Pasteur Institute from a patient with a disease that mysteriously destroyed the immune system.
He later recalled the “sense of isolation” as the team struggled to make that important connection.
“The results we had were very good, but they were not accepted by the rest of the scientific community for at least another year, until Robert Gallo confirmed our results in the US,” he said.
The Nobel Jury did not mention Gallo in their citation.
In 1986 Montagnier shared the Lasker Award – the US equivalent of the Nobel Prize – with Gallo and Myron Essex.
In 2011, to mark the 30th anniversary of AIDS, Montagnier warned of the rising costs of treating the 33 million people living with HIV at the time.
“Treatment cuts transmission, that’s clear, but it doesn’t erase it and we can’t treat all the millions of people,” he told AFP.
Montagnier was born on August 8, 1932 in Chabris in the Indre region of central France.
After heading Pasteur’s AIDS department from 1991 to 1997 and then teaching at Queens College in New York, Montagnier gradually slipped to the scientific fringes, sparking controversy after controversy.
He repeatedly claimed that autism is caused by infections and conducted much-criticized experiments to prove it, claiming antibiotics could cure the disease.
He stunned many of his colleagues when he spoke of water’s supposed ability to remember substances.
And he believed that anyone with a good immune system could fight HIV with the right diet.
Montagnier supported theories that DNA leaves an electromagnetic trail in water that could be used to diagnose AIDS and Lyme disease, and championed the therapeutic properties of fermented papaya for Parkinson’s disease.
“Slow scientific shipwreck”
He has repeatedly taken anti-vaccine positions and in 2017 received a sharp reprimand from 106 members of the Academies of Science and Medicine.
The French daily Le Figaro described his journey from leading researcher to weirdo as a “slow scientific shipwreck”.
During the COVID pandemic, he again stood out by noting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was lab-made and that vaccines were responsible for the emergence of variants.
These theories, dismissed by virologists and epidemiologists, made him even more of an outcast among his peers but a hero to French anti-vaccinationists.
AIDS Timeline: Four Decades, But Still No Silver bullet
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France’s Nobel laureate for co-discovery of HIV virus dies: Mayor (2022, February 10)
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