HIV has always sparked controversy – all the way back to when it was first discovered. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc A. Montagnier were recently awarded this year’s Nobel prize for their role in the discovery of the virus. More than two decades ago they identified a virus they named LAV, which later became known as HIV.
But who discovered the virus first would be disputed for many years after. A year after the French team’s discovery, Dr Robert Gallo, who was working in the States, discovered a virus he called HTLV-3 that would turn out to be the same virus. It eventually became clear the specimen the new discovery was taken from had come from the French team’s lab.
So it isn’t really disputable who discovered it first (though they gave it their best shot), but at that early stage Gallo’s research and the methods developed at his lab were instrumental in discovering HIV and propelling understanding of the virus forward. The Karolinska Institute were quoted by the New York Times saying, “Never before has science and medicine been so quick to discover, identify the origin and provide treatment for a new disease entity.”
So I say we take this moment to thank all the scientists involved in that remarkable achievement. Their effort made developing the tests, drugs and monitoring assays that now save millions of lives possible. Beyond the controversy of who deserves what that always comes with these awards, that’s all that really matters – advancing medicine and improving human lives.