Luc Montagnier was born in 1932 in Chabris, France, obtained his first degree in natural sciences in 1955 and MD in 1960 from the University of Poitiers, and doctorate in Medicine from the University of Paris in 1967. He spent three and a half years in the United Kingdom training at the Medical Research Council at Carshalton. Between 1963 and 1965, he conducted research at the Institute of Virology in Glasgow, Scotland. From 1965 to 1972, Montagnier became laboratory director of the Institut de Radium (Institut Curie) at Orsay. Thereafter, he became Research Director of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Professor of Virology at the Pasteur Institute in 1985. Professor Montagnier still continues his research in Paris at both the Pasteur Institute and his World Foundation: AIDS Research and Prevention.
Prior to the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Montagnier made several other landmark discoveries on the nature of viruses, and how they can alter the genetic information of host organisms; these findings contributed to the advancement of cancer research. His studies of interferon (a natural protein produced by the body to fight viruses) have also opened avenues for medical cures for viral diseases. However, Montagnier and his group are best known for their 1983 discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), followed by the development of a test for detecting its presence in blood samples. Their discovery of the AIDS virus (then named Lymphadenopathy Associated Virus or LAV) in human T4 lymphocytes was met with a bitter dispute with Professor Robert Gallo of the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology at the National Cancer Institute, USA, who reported the identity of the virus in 1984 under the name Human T Lymphotropic Virus-III. Although the scientific community predominantly agreed that Montagnier and his group should be credited with the discovery, the dispute was resolved by determining that the viruses isolated by French and American scientists were of the same identity and origin, and therefore the two groups share the credit of discovering the AIDS virus. It was named Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) type 1, to distinguish it from HIV type II which Montagnier and his co-workers discovered in West Africa in 1985. Montagnier and his team have since carried out seminal research on immunodeficiency viruses, such as their characterization, mechanism of action, diagnosis, and treatment. Their work was fundamental in currently available drugs for AIDS.
In 1993, Professor Montagnier received the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine jointly with Professors Chermann and Bare-Senoussi, for their discovery of the HIV virus, a groundbreaking accomplishment for which he was subsequently selected co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 2008. In addition, he received more than 20 other major awards and honors, including the Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur, the Lasker Award (1986), the Gairdner Award (1987) and the Prince of Austrias Award (2000). He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004.
Professor Luc Montagnier, Dr. Jean-Claud Chermann, Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, have been awarded the prize of Medicine.
In 1983 the team discovered the AIDS virus. The following year they described the way in which the HIV 1 virus attaches to certain white blood cells that are normally involved in the cellular response to infection by many types of bacteria & fungi, and protozoa. Later they showed that HIV 1 progressively destroys all the victims’ CD4+ cells with the result that they are no longer able to combat infections or cancer.
Through extensive field work, the group demonstrated the spread of the disease in central Africa as a result of sexual transmission.
In 1986 the team described a second but less virulent retrovirus which is responsible for AIDS in West Africa. This retrovirus has come to be known as HIV 2. The discovery of HIV 1 and 2 has opened the way to the development of diagnostic methods for AIDS and its prodromal syndrome.