French researcher Luc Montagnier, who died at 89, shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his early vital discoveries about AIDS, but was later rejected by the scientific community for his increasingly outlandish theories, particularly on Covid-19.
Montagnier and Françoise Barry-Sinoussi shared the 2008 Nobel Prize for their work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris to isolate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Their achievement has speeded the way for HIV tests and antiretroviral drugs that block the deadly pathogen.
Bitter Rivalry AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome – first appeared in public in 1981, when US doctors noticed an unusual number of deaths among gay young men in California and New York.
Montagnier had a bitter rivalry with American scientist Robert Gallo for his pioneering work in identifying HIV at the Department of Virology he established in Paris in 1972.
Both are credited with discovering that HIV causes AIDS, and for several years their competing claims led to a legal and even diplomatic dispute between France and the United States.
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 referred to a “feeling of isolation” as the team struggled to achieve this vital connection.
“The results we got were very good but were not accepted by the rest of the scientific community for at least another year, until Robert Gallo confirmed our results in the United States,” he said.
The Nobel Committee made no mention of Gallo in its quote.
In 1986, Montagnier shared the Lasker Award – the American equivalent of the Nobel Prize – with Gallo and Myron Essex.
In 2011, marking the 30th anniversary of AIDS, Montagnier warned of the rising costs of treating 33 million people living with HIV.
“Treatment cuts transmission, that’s obvious, but it doesn’t eliminate it and we can’t treat millions of people,” he told AFP.
Controversial Ideas Montagnier was born on August 8, 1932 in Chabris in the Indre region of central France.
After heading the AIDS department at Basseterre from 1991 to 1997, and then teaching at Queen’s College in New York, Montagnier gradually drifted to the scientific fringe, sparking controversy after controversy.
He has repeatedly suggested that autism is caused by infection and has conducted highly critical experiments to prove it, claiming that antibiotics can treat the condition.
He astonished many of his peers when he spoke of the purported ability of water to retain the memory of substances.
It was believed that anyone with a good immune system could fight HIV through the right diet.
Montagnier supported theories that DNA left an electromagnetic trace in water that could be used to diagnose AIDS and Lyme disease, and advocated the healing qualities of fermented papaya for Parkinson’s disease.
A ‘slow science shipwreck’ has taken frequent stands against vaccines, earning a scathing reprimand in 2017 from 106 members of the Academies of Sciences and Pharmaceuticals.
The French daily Le Figaro described his journey from a leading researcher to Karnak as a “slow scientific shipwreck”.
During the Covid pandemic, it came to prominence again, suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was made in a lab and that vaccines were responsible for the variants emerging.
These theories, rejected by virologists and epidemiologists, made him even more an outcast among his peers, but a hero in the eyes of French anti-vaccinators.