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Luc Montagnier

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Luc Montagnier

Luc Antoine Montagnier
Luc Montagnier, 2008
Born (1932-08-18) 18 August 1932
Chabris, France
Nationality French
Fields Virology
Known for Discovery of HIV
Notable awards 1988 Japan Prize
2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Luc Antoine Montagnier (born 18 August 1932) is a French virologist and joint recipient with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).[1] A long-time researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, he currently works as a full-time professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China.[2]

In 2009, Montagnier published two controversial research studies[3] that some homeopaths claimed as support for homeopathy. Although Montagnier disputed any such support,[4] many scientists greeted his claims with scorn and harsh criticism.[3][5][6]

History of the discovery of HIV

In 1982, Willy Rozenbaum, a clinician at the Hôpital Bichat hospital in Paris, France, asked Montagnier for assistance in establishing the cause of a mysterious new syndrome, AIDS (known at the time as "Gay-related immune deficiency" or GRID). Rozenbaum had suggested at scientific meetings that the cause of the disease might be a retrovirus. Montagnier and members of his group at the Pasteur Institute, notably including Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Jean-Claude Chermann, had extensive experience with retroviruses. Montagnier and his team examined samples taken from Rozenbaum's AIDS patients and found the virus that would later become known as HIV in a lymph node biopsy. They named it "lymphadenopathy-associated virus," or LAV, since it was not yet clear that it was the cause of AIDS, and published their findings in the journal Science in 1983.[7]

A team led by Robert Gallo of the United States published similar findings in the same issue of Science and later confirmed the discovery of the virus and presented evidence that it caused AIDS. Gallo called the virus "human T-lymphotropic virus type III" (HTLV-III) because of perceived similarities with HTLV-I and -II, which had previously been discovered in his lab.[8] Because of the timing of the discoveries, whether Montagnier's or Gallo's group was first to isolate HIV was for many years the subject of an acrimonious dispute. HIV isolates usually have a high degree of variability because the virus mutates rapidly. In comparison, the first two human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) isolates, Lai/LAV (formerly LAV, isolated at the Pasteur Institute) and Lai/IIIB (formerly HTLV-IIIB, isolated from a pooled culture at the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology (LTCB) of the National Cancer Institute) were strikingly similar in sequence, suggesting that the two isolates were in fact the same, or at least shared a common source.

In November 1990, the Office of Scientific Integrity at the National Institutes of Health attempted to clear up the matter by commissioning a group at Roche to analyze archival samples established at the Pasteur Institute and the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology (LTCB) of the National Cancer Institute between 1983 and 1985. The group, led by Sheng-Yung Chang, examined archival specimens and concluded in Nature in 1993 that Gallo's virus had come from Montagnier's lab.

Chang determined that the French group's LAV was a virus from one patient that had contaminated a culture from another. On request, Montagnier's group had sent a sample of this culture to Gallo, not knowing it contained two viruses. It then contaminated the pooled culture on which Gallo was working.[9]

Before the 1993 publication of Chang's results, Gallo's lab was accused and initially found guilty of "minor misconduct" by the Office of Scientific Integrity in 1991, and then by the newly created Office of Research Integrity in 1992 for the misappropriation of a sample of HIV produced at the Pasteur Institute.[10] The subsequent publication in 1993 of Chang's investigation cleared Gallo's lab of the charges, although his reputation had already been tainted by the accusations.

Today it is agreed that Montagnier's group first isolated HIV,[11] but Gallo's group is credited with discovering that the virus causes AIDS and with generating much of the science that made the discovery possible, including a technique previously developed by Gallo's lab for growing [12] When Montagnier's group first published their discovery, they said HIV's role in causing AIDS "remains to be determined."[13]

The question of whether the true discoverers of the virus were French or American was more than a matter of prestige. A US government patent for the AIDS test, filed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and based on what was claimed to be Gallo's identification of the virus, was at stake.[14] In 1987, both governments attempted to end the dispute by arranging to split the prestige of the discovery and the proceeds from the patent 50-50,[14] naming Montagnier and Gallo co-discoverers.[13] The two scientists continued to dispute each other's claims until 1987.

It was not until French President François Mitterrand and American President Ronald Reagan met that the major issues were ironed out. The scientific protagonists finally agreed to share credit for the discovery of HIV, and in 1986, both the French and the US names (LAV and HTLV-III) were dropped in favor of the new term human immunodeficiency virus (virus de l'immunodéficience humaine, abbreviated HIV or VIH) (Coffin, 1986). They concluded that the origin of the HIV-1 Lai/IIIB isolate discovered by Gallo was the same as that discovered by Montagnier (but not known by Montagnier to cause AIDS). This compromise allowed Montagnier and Gallo to end their feud and collaborate with each other again, writing a chronology that appeared in Nature that year.[13]

In the 29 November 2002 issue of Science, Gallo and Montagnier published a series of articles, one of which was co-written by both scientists, in which they acknowledged the pivotal roles that each had played in the discovery of HIV.[15][16][17]

Awards and honors

The 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi for the discovery of HIV.[18] They shared the Prize with Harald zur Hausen, who discovered that human papilloma viruses can cause cervical cancer.[13][19] Montagnier said he was "surprised" that Robert Gallo was not also recognized by the Nobel Committee: "It was important to prove that HIV was the cause of AIDS, and Gallo had a very important role in that. I'm very sorry for Robert Gallo."[13] According to Maria Masucci, a member of the Nobel Assembly, "there was no doubt as to who made the fundamental discoveries."[18]

Montagnier is the co-founder of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and co-directs the Program for International Viral Collaboration. He is the founder and a former president of the Houston-based World Foundation for Medical Research and Prevention. He has received more than 20 major awards, including the Légion d'honneur (Commandeur in 1994; Grand Officier in 2009),[20] the Lasker Award and the Scheele Award (1986),the Gairdner Award (1987), King Faisal International Prize (1993) (known as the Arab Nobel Prize), and the Prince of Asturias Award (2000). He is also a member of the Académie Nationale de Médecine.[21]

Research on electromagnetic signals from DNA

In 2009, Montagnier published two controversial research studies which, if true, "would be the most significant experiments performed in the past 90 years, demanding re-evaluation of the whole conceptual framework of modern chemistry."[3]

They were published in a new journal of which he is chairman of the editorial board,[5] allegedly[3] detecting electromagnetic signals from bacterial DNA (M. pirum and E. coli) in water that had been prepared using agitation and high dilutions,[22] and similar research on electromagnetic detection of HIV DNA in the blood of AIDS patients treated by antiretroviral therapy.[23]

On 28 June 2010, Montagnier spoke at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany,[24] "where 60 Nobel prize winners had gathered, along with 700 other scientists, to discuss the latest breakthroughs in medicine, chemistry and physics."[25] He "stunned his colleagues....when he presented a new method for detecting viral infections that bore close parallels to the basic tenets of homeopathy. Although fellow Nobel prize winners – who view homeopathy as quackery – were left openly shaking their heads, Montagnier's comments were rapidly embraced by homeopaths eager for greater credibility. Cristal Sumner, of the British Homeopathic Association, said Montagnier's work gave homeopathy 'a true scientific ethos'."[25]

When asked by Canada's CBC Marketplace program if his work was indeed a theoretical basis for homeopathy as homeopaths had claimed, Montagnier replied that one "cannot extrapolate it to the products used in homeopathy".[4]

Responses, criticisms and interview

While homeopaths claim his research as support for homeopathy, many scientists have greeted it with scorn and harsh criticism.[3][5][6]

Because the research used high dilutions, homeopaths claimed it supported homeopathy, even though it didn't mention homeopathy or use ultra-high dilutions:

On 14 September 2009, Louise Mclean posted on the "Homeopathy World Community" website: "Luc Montagnier Foundation Proves Homeopathy Works",[26] and on 6 October 2009, homeopathic promoter Dana Ullman responded to a criticism of homeopathy by writing: "And I assume that you all have seen the new research by Nobel Prize-winning virologist Luc Montagnier that provides significant support to homeopathy."[27] (On 30 January 2011, Ullman responded to Montagnier's comment on "homeopathy" and "high dilutions" in his 24 December 2010 Science interview by writing an article entitled "Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize Winner, Takes Homeopathy Seriously". In the article he repeated his claim's that Montagnier's studies supported homeopathy.[28])

Criticism of the claims of homeopaths followed:

On 20 October 2010, Harriet A. Hall responded specifically to these claims by homeopaths: "Nope. Sorry, guys. It doesn’t. In fact, its findings are inconsistent with homeopathic theory... Homeopaths who believe Montagnier’s study supports homeopathy are only demonstrating their enormous capacity for self-deception." She went on to analyze the studies and pointed out a number of flaws, stating: "...even assuming the results are valid, they tend to discredit homeopathy, not support it... Homeopathy is a system of clinical treatment that can only be validated by in vivo clinical trials."[29]

In a 24 December 2010 Science magazine interview entitled "French Nobelist Escapes ‘Intellectual Terror’ to Pursue Radical Ideas in China", he was questioned about his research and plans. In the interview he stated that Jacques Benveniste, whose controversial homeopathic work had been discredited, was "a modern Galileo". When asked if he wasn't "worried that your colleagues will think you have drifted into pseudo-science?", he replied "No, because it’s not pseudoscience. It’s not quackery. These are real phenomena which deserve further study." He also mentioned that his applications for funding had been turned down and that he was leaving his home country to set up shop in China so he could escape what he called the "intellectual terror" which he had been told had prevented others from publishing their results. He believes that China's Jiaotong University is more "open minded" to his research. There he is chairman of the editorial board[5][30] of a new journal which publishes his research.[31]

Montagnier was also questioned on his beliefs about homeopathy, to which he replied: "I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules. We find that with DNA, we cannot work at the extremely high dilutions used in homeopathy; we cannot go further than a 10−18 dilution, or we lose the signal. But even at 10−18, you can calculate that there is not a single molecule of DNA left. And yet we detect a signal."[31]

A 12 January 2011 New Scientist editorial described the controversial nature of the research, while also noting how many researchers "reacted with disbelief", with Gary Schuster comparing it to "pathological science."[3] Biology professor PZ Myers also described it as "pathological science." He described the paper as "one of the more unprofessional write-ups I've ever run across", and criticized the publication process as having an "unbelievable turnaround" time: "another suspicious sign are the dates. This paper was submitted on 3 January 2009, revised on 5 January 2009, and accepted on 6 January 2009," leading him to ask: "Who reviewed this, the author's mother? Maybe someone even closer. Guess who the chairman of the editorial board is: Luc Montagnier."[5][30]

On 25 May 2012, he gave the keynote address[32] at the 2012 AutismOne conference in Chicago. Similar to the controversy he aroused by extolling homeopathy, his latest group, Chronimed, claims to have made a discovery for autistic children that was sharply criticized[33] by scientist Dr. Steven Salzberg.

Legal battle over patent

In 2009, Montagnier became involved in a legal battle with inventor Bruno Robert over the intellectual property rights to the techniques used in the aforementioned research. Robert, who had tried to succeed the company Digibio created by Jacques Benveniste, approached Montagnier in May 2005 regarding his work on electromagnetic signals. In November 2005, Robert registered a patent for the process of homing in on a "biochemical element presenting a biological activity through the analysis of low-frequency electromagnetic signals." This patent was in fact written by Montagnier from results obtained between July and November 2005. A month later, INPI, France's patents body, received a request for the same patent from Montagnier,[34] which was criticized by the patent examiner on multiple points, including this one:

"...the invention is based on phenomena which contradict the fundamental principle of physics and of chemistry, i.e. the existence of biological or effect without an active molecule and no explanation or theoretical basis makes it impossible at the current time to explain the results obtained."[35]

Montagnier took Robert to court, claiming that he had intellectual property rights over this process. However, Robert's lawyer alleged that Montagnier had already admitted that he had not come up with the discovery, as he had signed a contract to use Robert's technique in 2005. In response, Montagnier's lawyer said the pair had only signed a "protocol agreement" which was not legally binding.[36] In July 2009, the court ruled that Robert's 2005 patent application was 'fraudulent', because it had subtracted all of Montagnier's contribution, which the court estimated at 50%.[37]

See also


  1. ^ ", Nobel prize for viral discoveries". BBC News. 6 October 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  2. ^ "SJTU Appointed Luc Montagnier University Chair Professor". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Andy Coghlan, "Scorn over claim of teleported DNA", New Scientist 12 January 2011, issue 2795
  4. ^ a b "Cure Or Con?". CBC Marketplace. Archived from the original on April 13, 2014.  Approx 17:00 of 22:29.
  5. ^ a b c d e PZ Myers, "It almost makes me disbelieve that HIV causes AIDS!", Pharyngula, 24 January 2011
  6. ^ a b Editorial, "Why we have to teleport disbelief", New Scientist 12 January 2011, issue 2795
  7. ^ Barré-Sinoussi F, Chermann JC, Rey F, Nugeyre MT, Chamaret S, Gruest J, Dauguet C, Axler-Blin C, Vézinet-Brun F, Rouzioux C, Rozenbaum W, Montagnier L (1983). "Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)". Science 220 (4599): 868–871.  
  8. ^ Popovic M, Sarngadharan MG, Read E, Gallo RC (1984). "Detection, isolation, and continuous production of cytopathic retroviruses (HTLV-III) from patients with AIDS and pre-AIDS". Science 224 (4648): 497–500.  
  9. ^ Sheng-Yung P. Chang, Barbara H. Bowman, Judith B. Weiss, Rebeca E. Garcia & Thomas J. White (1993). "The origin of HIV-1 isolate HTLV-IIIB".   (Open access)
  10. ^ "Summary of fraud accusation". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  11. ^ Enserink, Martin. "Nobel Prize Surprise – ScienceNOW". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  12. ^ DA Morgan, FW Ruscetti, R Gallo (10 September 1976). "Selective in vitro growth of T lymphocytes from normal human bone marrows". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d e "HIV, HPV Researchers Honored, But One Scientist is Left Out".  
  14. ^ a b Hilts, Philip (13 November 1993). "U.S. Drops Misconduct Case Against an AIDS Researcher". New York Times. 
  15. ^ Montagnier L (2002). "Historical essay. A History of HIV Discovery". Science 298 (5599): 1727–8.  
  16. ^ Gallo RC (2002). "Historical essay. The Early Years of HIV/AIDS". Science 298 (5599): 1728–30.  
  17. ^ Gallo RC, Montagnier L (2002). "Historical essay. Prospects for the Future". Science 298 (5599): 1730–1.  
  18. ^ a b Altman, Lawrence K. (7 October 2008). "Discoverers of AIDS and Cancer Viruses Win Nobel". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  19. ^ Altman, Lawrence (6 October 2008). "Three Europeans Win the 2008 Nobel for Medicine". New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2008. 
  20. ^ "Décret du 31 décembre 2008 portant élévation et nomination aux dignités de grand'croix et de grand officier".  
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ Montagnier, L, Aäissa, J et al, "Electromagnetic Signals Are Produced by Aqueous Nanostructures Derived from Bacterial DNA Sequences". Interdisciplinary Sciences: Computational Life Sciences, 6 January 2009, Volume 1, Number 2, 81–90, doi:10.1007/s12539-009-0036-7 Retrieved 27 Jan 2011.
  23. ^ Montagnier, L, Aäissa, J et al, "Electromagnetic detection of HIV DNA in the blood of AIDS patients treated by antiretroviral therapy". Interdisciplinary Sciences: Computational Life Sciences, 3 July 2009, Volume 1, Number 4, 245–253, doi:10.1007/s12539-009-0059-0 Retrieved 27 January 2011
  24. ^ Program (2010 – 60th Meeting of Nobel Laureates (3rd interdisciplinary)), Meeting on 28 June 2010
  25. ^ a b Nobel laureate gives homeopathy a boost. The Australian 5 July 2010
  26. ^ "Luc Montagnier Foundation Proves Homeopathy Works". "Homeopathy World Community" website, 14 September 2009
  27. ^ Dana Ullman, Dana Ullman's comment of 6 October 2009
  28. ^ Dana Ullman, "Luc Montagnier, Nobel Prize Winner, Takes Homeopathy Seriously", Huffington Post, 30 January 2011
  29. ^ Harriet A. Hall, "The Montagnier 'Homeopathy' Study", Science-Based Medicine, 20 October 2009
  30. ^ a b Montagnier is listed as Chairman of the Editorial Board of the journal Interdisciplinary Sciences: Computational Life Sciences
  31. ^ a b Martin Enserink, "Newsmaker Interview: Luc Montagnier. French Nobelist Escapes "Intellectual Terror" to Pursue Radical Ideas in China", Science 24 December 2010: 1732. doi:10.1126/science.330.6012.1732 Full article mirror
  32. ^ Announcement of public appearance, "Keynote: The microbial track", 25 May 2012
  33. ^ Editorial, "Nobel laureate joins anti-vaccination crowd at Autism One", Forbes 27 May 2012
  34. ^ "Montagnier's patent application". Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  35. ^ Patent examiner's assessment, p. 10. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), United Nations
  36. ^ Samuel, Henry (8 Mar 2009). "Man who co-discovered HIV accused of stealing rights to Aids cure". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 4 August 2009. 
  37. ^

External links

  • The discovery of the AIDS virus in 1983 – Official position of the Pasteur Institute.
  • Montagnier's Nobel Prize lecture
  • PROFILE: Luc Montagnier, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi – AIDS pioneers
  • Luc Montagnier Foundation
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