Fame destroyed the reputation of Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier – 02/11/2022 – Balance and Health / Brazil

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Frenchman Luc Montagnier (1932-2022) represented the prototype of a dedicated European researcher, driven by the ideals of humanistic science. Consecrated with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008, he died in the ostracism reserved for deniers.

His nemesis was the American Roberto Gallo, with whom he disputed the primacy for the discovery of the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. Relegated for a time to the role of villain, Gallo reaches old age as a respected scientist and considered wronged by the Nobel committee.

From a sample from a New Yorker, Montagnier isolated at the Pasteur Institute and published in the journal Science, in 1983, a retrovirus which he named LAV (lymphadenopathy associated with virus). The name alluded to the swollen lymph nodes of people with a mysterious illness.

The disease was then known as “gay cancer” because of its association with a skin tumor, Kaposi’s sarcoma. It was also called Hs disease, referring to heroin addicts, homosexuals, Haitians, and hemophiliacs.

Montagnier’s claims that he caused the disease, later renamed AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), were initially met with skepticism. He was even mocked at a meeting of virologists in Cold Spring Harbor (USA).

His group, most notably with Nobel co-laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, applied for a patent on features of the LAV that would lead to innovations such as diagnostic tests. He was denied.

At the same time, Gallo had discovered another virus that causes leukemia, HTLV-3, at the US National Cancer Institute. The US government advertised him as an AIDS agent. Gallo obtained a patent on the diagnostic test, applied for after Montagnier was rejected.

The case escalated into a transatlantic trade dispute. When it became clear that LAV and HTLV-3 were the same virus, the primacy of the despised European prevailed over that of the arrogant American; at least that was the current perception.

In 1987, a binational agreement ended the litigation. Montagnier and Gallo were recognized as co-discoverers of the AIDS pathogen, which would go down in history as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), and they would share the royalties from the resulting tests and treatments.

The 2008 Nobel, however, would support the idea that the heroes were Montagnier and Barré-Sinoussi. Gallo went on to rank high on the long list of losers of the world’s most famous scientific prize. However, the award also marked the beginning of a radical change of trajectories.

Gallo, already a renowned virologist, continued his successful career despite the setback. He founded the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland in 1996 and still directs it. He published around 1,200 scientific articles.

Montagnier’s scientific reputation went downhill after the Nobel. Driven by fame, the following year, 2009, he began to propagate controversial ideas about the emission of electromagnetic signals by the DNA of pathogens that would allow their identification.

It was a variant of the theories of another controversial Frenchman, Jacques Benveniste, about the “memory of water”, supposed retention of information about molecules that are no longer present in the liquid after the successive dilutions recommended by homeopathy.

Montagnier publicly defended Benveniste. Little by little, he was losing prestige among the research funding institutions, which began to reject his funding applications.

In 2012, the Nobel laureate tried to move to Cameroon, Africa, with the intention of directing the Chantal Biya International Reference Center (CIRCB) in Yaoundé. An open letter from 35 other laureates condemned the claim, which would threaten the future of Africa’s prestigious AIDS research institution.

Gallo, although lacking a Nobel, supported the campaign against Montagnier’s nomination. At the same time, scientists were debating ideas about the outlandish risks of vaccines spread by the Frenchman, who attended an autism conference in Chicago to make the case for a link between the syndrome and immunizations.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, Montagnier took a few steps down. He pointed out the existence of genetic content in Sars-CoV-2 similar to that of HIV and reported that the new coronavirus had escaped from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan that was looking for an AIDS vaccine.

It turns out that the suspected genetic material is also present in thousands of other viruses. It makes no sense to establish a causal link between the two pathogens, as Jair Bolsonaro did in October in a live broadcast.

Interviewed by Rodrigo Craveiro for Correio Braziliense, Gallo was incredulous with the presidential speech: “It is hard to believe that someone says that the Covid-19 vaccine causes AIDS. We know what causes AIDS.”

The president could allege, when defending himself in the investigation opened by the Federal Supreme Court into his conduct, that he relied on the authority of a Nobel Prize winner. Since Montagnier had no accepted proof of the conspiracies he trumpeted, it would be more correct to say that the Nobel has slipped to the level of a president using a pandemic far worse than AIDS to fuel vote-seeking anti-vaccine denialism.

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Fame destroyed the reputation of Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier – 02/11/2022 – Balance and Health / Brazil