Born In: Chabris, France
French virologist Luc Montagnier is best remembered for his discovery of the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which won him the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008. Starting his research career in Paris, he later conducted significant research in Glasgow. In 1983, Montagnier, along with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and their team of scientists, discovered a retrovirus that affected human immunity and which was eventually named the HIV and identified as the cause of AIDS. Though he was dragged into a clash with US scientist Robert C. Gallo, who had made an identical discovery, Montagnier was eventually credited with the discovery of HIV. Apart from the Nobel Prize, he won numerous other awards and recognitions for his work. He is remembered for his association with the Pasteur Institute of Paris as a researcher and an academician. He also established the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention.
Died At Age: 89
Spouse/Ex-: Dorothea Ackerman (m. 1961), Dorothea Ackerman (m. 1961)
father: Antoine Montagnier
children: Anne-Marie, Francine, Jean-Luc
Born Country: France
place of death: Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Notable Alumni: University Of Poitiers
Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Medicine
Founder/Co-Founder: World Foundation for Medical Research and Prevention
education: University Of Paris, University Of Poitiers
awards: 1986 Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine
1988 Japan Prize
2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Luc Montagnier was born on August 18, 1932, in Chabris, Indre, central France, to accountant Antoine Montagnier and his homemaker wife, Marianne. Luc was his parents’ only child. His father apparently maintained a makeshift chemical laboratory in their family’s garage, which inspired Luc to take up science and become a doctor.
Montagnier initially attended the Collège de Châtellerault in western France, which was located about 20 miles north of Poitiers. He then studied at the Universities of Poitiers and Paris, graduating with a degree in science (diplôme d'études supérieures de sciences naturalle) in 1953 and with another, in medicine (license ès sciences), in 1960. He later obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne, where he also taught physiology.
In 1955, Luc Montagnier began his career as a research scientist with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. From 1960 to 1963, he worked with the Virus Unit of London’s Medical Research Council.
He also worked at Glasgow’s Institute of Virology from 1963 to 1964. In 1963, Montagnier, along with a colleague, discovered the first double-stranded RNA virus, by replicating a single-stranded RNA. In Glasgow, he and a fellow scientist discovered that cancer cells could be cultured in agar, an innovative way of culturing cancer cells back then. The technique they used to do the same grew to become a standard procedure in laboratories that studied cell transformation and oncogenes.
From 1965 to 1972, he served as the laboratory director of the Institut du Radium (later known as the Insitut Curie) in Paris. In 1972, he joined the Pasteur Institute of Paris, or the Institut Pasteur, where he established the Viral Oncology Unit and served as its director. In 1974, Montagnier became director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
During this period, he conducted extensive research on oncogenic viruses and interferon chemistry. In 1982, physician Willy Rozenbaum asked Montagnier for his help in locating the cause of a new disease that had been spreading and was known as “gay-related immune deficiency,” or “GRID,” back then and came to be known as AIDS much later.
In 1983, Luc Montagnier, along with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and other scientists, discovered a retrovirus in patients who suffered from swollen lymph glands that attacked lymphocytes, which form the basis of the body's immune system. Montagnier and his colleagues published an article titled Isolation of a T-Lymphotropic Retrovirus from a Patient at Risk for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the May 20, 1983 issue of Science.
In the article, they mentioned how they had identified a retrovirus named lymphadenopathy-associated virus as the cause of AIDS. Around the same time, in April 1984, American biomedical researcher Robert C. Gallo of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda declared that AIDS was caused by a virus that belonged to the family of human T-cell lymphotropic viruses (HTLVs), which Gallo named HTLV-III.
Later, the HTLV-III virus was found to be identical to the lymphadenopathy-associated virus that Montagnier had mentioned. Montagnier and Gallo fought their claims out in a lawsuit in December 1985.
Meanwhile, in 1985, Montagnier became part of the faculty of the Department of AIDS and Retrovirus at the Institut Pasteur. While he initially began as a professor, since 1990 he had been the director there.
Montagnier and his co-researchers discovered the properties of interferon messenger RNA. They also managed to clone the interferon genes, which made it possible for them to produce interferon in massive quantity for research.
Eventually, Dr. Jonas E. Salk intervened in the dispute related to the discovery of HIV and resolved the issue. Following the resolution of the suit between Montagnier and Gallo, both won numerous awards and accolades. In 1986, the AIDS virus was officially named the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Both Montagnier and Gallo were honored by the Lasker Foundation and received the 1986 Albert Lasker Medical Research Award. While Montagnier was credited for discovering the AIDS retrovirus, Gallo was credited for originating the human retrovirus research.
In March 1986, Montagnier and his fellow researchers declared that they had discovered another AIDS virus strain, the HIV-II. In 1987, both the American and the French governments agreed to share the credit for the discovery of HIV. However, Montagnier and his team were later acknowledged as the first to identify the virus.
He founded the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention in 1993 and later became the chair at Queens College, New York City. From 1998 to 2001, he headed the Center for Molecular and Cellular Biology of Queens College.
In 2001, he went back to the Pasteur Institute as professor emeritus. He also served the Administrative Council of the European Federation for AIDS Research as its president and has been a professor at China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
While his pioneering work on HIV won him the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with co-recipients Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen, Luc Montagnier had won numerous other awards, too. In 1972, he won the Prix Rosen de Cancérologie for his ground-breaking research that assisted in the battle against cancer.
In 1986, he was awarded the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine and the Lasker Award, while he won the Japan Prize in 1988. He was also presented with the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’ Honneur in 1984 and with the Commandeur de l'Order National du Mérite in 1986.
He received other honors from countries such as Switzerland and Canada, too. In 2000, Bhutan honored him with a stamp issued in his name.
Apart from the clash with Robert C. Gallo over the discovery of HIV, Luc Montagnier had been dragged into numerous other controversies throughout his career. In 2012, he ruffled feathers in the scientific community when, while speaking at a conference on autism, he stated that long-term antibiotics had a possibility of treating autism in future.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he suggested that the virus may have been created in a laboratory. In a video, he also claimed that COVID vaccines may not be effective, as they could create viral variants.
Luc Montagnier married Dorothea Ackerman in 1961. The couple had three children: a son, Jean-Luc, and two daughters, Anne-Marie and Francine.
He died on February 8, 2022, in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He was 89 years of age at the time of his death.
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