December 1 is World AIDS Day, a perfect time to examine the work and contributions of Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a French virologist who helped discover HIV and its links to the disease today known as AIDS. For over 30 years, she has been working on HIV/AIDS research and promoting integration between HIV/AIDS research and actions in resource limited countries.
Born in Paris in 1947, Barré-Sinoussi spent holidays in the French countryside observing the wonders of the natural world. As she wrote in 2008, “this fascination for the natural world was perhaps the earliest indication of the future direction my life would take.”
Barré-Sinoussi joined the Pasteur Institute, a private organization whose mission is to help prevent and treat diseases, in 1970. She received her PhD in 1975 and interned at the U.S. National Institutes of Health before returning to the Pasteur Institute. Her research group studied the link between retroviruses and cancers.
In 1983, Barré-Sinoussi was the lead author of a paper published in Science that identified a new human retrovirus, later named human immune deficiency virus (HIV). She said of this breakthrough, “I had the idea that it was an important discovery because I was convinced that it was a new virus, never identified before.” Over three decades, her research has greatly increased our understanding of HIV/AIDS, including: the adaptive immune response to infection, the role of immune defenses in controlling HIV/AIDS, mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and characteristics that enable HIV remission without antiretroviral drugs.
In 2008, she and her colleague Luc Montagnier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of HIV. In a 2015 interview, she discussed the future of HIV/AIDS, saying, “Even though we do not have a vaccine, I think we have learned a lot from the negative results as well … it’s not a failure. … I’m convinced one day–I don’t know when–we will have a strategy to induce durable remission.”
Written by Nicole Hutchison