amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Dr. Luc Montagnier, Co-Discoverer of HIV, Dies at 89

Dr. Luc Montagnier in his research center at Saint Joseph Hospital, Paris, France. (Shown here with Willie Brown, mayor of San Francisco, in a 1996 AP photo.)

Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French virologist co-credited with the discovery of HIV, passed away on February 8 in his home town of Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris. He was 89.

Dr. Montagnier's legacy is a complex one, though his impact is indisputable. While director of the Viral Oncology Unit at the renowned Pasteur Institute, he led the research team that identified the cause of AIDS as a never-before-seen retrovirus known today as HIV.

In May 1983, Dr. Montagnier and his team published their findings in Science, identifying a retrovirus they called L.A.V. (lymphadenopathy-associated virus) but concluding that further study was necessary to prove this virus was the cause of AIDS. A year later Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Institutes of Health confirmed the link, publishing his research identifying the virus his team called H.T.L.V.-III as the cause of AIDS. The samples both teams used for their studies came from the same patient.

Drs. Gallo and Montagnier fought for years over credit for the discovery of HIV; at different points Jonas Salk and the presidents of both the United States and France had to step in to mediate. In 2008, the Nobel Committee awarded Dr. Montagnier and his colleague Dr. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for their role in the discovery of HIV.

More recently, Dr. Montagnier's scientific inquiries veered into more controversial territory, including claiming that DNA emits electromagnetic radiation, that autism could be successfully treated by antibiotics, and that COVID-19 vaccines did more harm than good.

Dr. Montagnier was a recipient of funding from amfAR's predecessor, the AIDS Medical Foundation, which awarded him a small research grant in 1985.