Imported beats domestic
October 6, 2008 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Luc Montagnier, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen take the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discoveries of the AIDS virus and HPV, respectively. Take that Gallo.
posted by dances_with_sneetches (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Damn vintners, trying to stand in the path of science!
posted by DU at 6:46 AM on October 6, 2008

There are so many directions to take this thread. Because I didn't want to spend time putting together a breaking news post with lots of links only to find it had already been posted, I just put up the basics.
There was the incredible drama of the mystery of what was killing off people in the early 80s - a disease that has gone on to become the number one killer in the world.
There was the personal drama of Gallo's discovery versus Montagnier's prior discovery and whether they should share co-credit and whether Gallo nakedly stole the virus. (I don't believe he did.)
Then there was the intrigue of the French refusing to use the American-made HIV test (because of the controversy about who discovered HIV). Because of this their blood transfusions went on to kill thousands and the prime minister was put on trial.
The story of HPV shouldn't be short-schrifted.
There is this note. I've met both Gallo and Montagnier. Gallo is as many have noted: brilliant and in your face arrogant. He is probably the better all-around scientist than Montagnier and may have won a Nobel Prize if he never got involved in the HIV controversy. I was under the impression that Montagnier was a gentleman and a brilliant plodding scientist, the sort that usually gets to the answer.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:59 AM on October 6, 2008

That was a bit of a slap in the face to Gallo. We are sure to start hearing about anti-American bias.
posted by caddis at 7:00 AM on October 6, 2008

I thought everyone knew Gallo was claiming credit for work that wasn't his?
posted by QIbHom at 7:01 AM on October 6, 2008

Maybe the virus has been around longer than earlier thought...
Tissue sample suggests HIV has been infecting humans for a century
posted by robbyrobs at 7:02 AM on October 6, 2008

a disease that has gone on to become the number one killer in the world.

{{citation needed}}
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:05 AM on October 6, 2008

Sorry, number one infectious disease killer. Number one killer in developing countries. The way the numbers are parsed is a bit controversial - AIDS contributes to death by other means including tuberculosis,
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:18 AM on October 6, 2008

a disease that has gone on to become the number one killer in the world.

Actually, heart disease is the number one killer in the world.
All Countries -- Causes of Total deaths
Ischemic heart disease 7,208,000
Cerebrovascular disease 5,509,000
Lower respiratory infections 3,884,000
HIV/AIDS 2,777,000
Chronic obstructive lung diseases 2,748,000
Diarrhoeal Diseases 1,798,000
Tuberculosis 1,566,000
Malaria 1,272,000
posted by ericb at 7:23 AM on October 6, 2008

It certainly looks like a calculated slap in Gallo's face. Rewarding zur Hausen for unrelated (although well-deserving) research on the same year closes the door for a fourth recipient: apparently the Medicine Nobel Prize is limited to three persons max...
posted by Skeptic at 9:22 AM on October 6, 2008

BTW, Zur Hausen's research led to the development of the cervical cancer vaccine. You know, the one that fundies oppose on the grounds that it may turn teenage girls into unbridled nymphomaniacs.
Do you think that the Swedes were sending a message there?
posted by Skeptic at 9:28 AM on October 6, 2008

It certainly looks like a calculated slap in Gallo's face.

It sure does, especially given that the principals had already agreed amongst themselves (and with some public fanfare) that credit for the discovery should be shared.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:00 AM on October 6, 2008

Wow. American researchers dissed by elitist Nobel committee in favor for French researchers. The Fox gang are going to have fun with this one. It just writes itself...
posted by Thorzdad at 10:01 AM on October 6, 2008

In the larger picture, it doesn't really matter what a few anti-intellectual American mouth breathers at Fox News Central think. Progress is measured by the people who make it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:31 AM on October 6, 2008

What happened is the complete opposite of what you are thinking. Gallo was going to get his Nobel, but the Bush administration pressured the Swedes into the current situation.

We don't want no stinking credit in the discovery of a homosexual virus! That would mean there are more homosexuals in the America than in communist France, and everyone knows that can't be. HIV is a French fabrication, AIDS is just God punishing those dirty people. If we ignore it, it will go away.
posted by dirty lies at 10:50 AM on October 6, 2008

When I said above I don't believe Gallo nakedly stole the virus, I only meant that I don't think he said, "We've got a flask with the virus from Montagnier's lab, let's say we isolated it independently and claim discovery. They'll never be able to prove where we got it." The tests in later years were able to prove that Gallo's virus was the one isolated from Montagnier's lab.
I suspect the following to be a more likely scenario. In big science the main researcher rarely gets his hands involved in the experiments. I imagine Gallo leaned heavily on the head of his virology lab, Mikulas Popovic, saying the French got the culture to work, why can't you? Was there winking involved? Maybe - but the incredible pressure to get results after repeated failures is hard enough to resist on its own. Popovic refused to be interviewed for the later Congressional subcommittee investigations regarding what happened.
Gallo did go on to put together the HIV blood test first. The French refused to use it because they were convinced Gallo stole the discovery of the virus. This resulted in thousands of infections.
I don't excuse Gallo. It is correct to say he didn't discover the virus. He made millions from the HIV blood test. When Montagnier later made peace with him, it was centered around a financial arrangement for the patent on the HIV test.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:13 AM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here are some relevant paragraphs from an article regarding the controversy:

On the same day Gallo announced that he had found the cause of AIDS, he filed a U.S. patent application for a blood test that would detect signs of the virus in people.
But there was also considerable and often acrimonious controversy, including accusations that Gallo improperly used a sample of HIV produced at the Pasteur Institute.

And so began a three-year, high-level diplomatic negotiation between the U.S. and France.

The controversy which would embroil the American scientist's career for almost the next decade began when the United States government denied the French scientists a patent for the AIDS test and awarded one to Gallo's team instead. The patent would be worth about $100 million a year in sales and $100,000 personally to Gallo.
This first stage of the controversy ended in a legal settlement that was highly unusual for the scientific community: Gallo and Montagnier agreed out of court to share equal credit for their discovery.
The two scientists continued to dispute each other's claims until 1987, when they finally agreed to share credit for the discovery of HIV
In November 1990, the Office of Scientific Integrity at the National Institutes of Health commissioned a group at Roche to analyze archival samples established at the Pasteur Institute and the National Cancer Institute between 1983 and 1985. They concluded that the origin of the HIV isolate discovered by Gallo was the same as that discovered by Montagnier.

Today it is generally agreed that Montagnier's group was the first to identify HIV, although Gallo's group insists it contributed significantly to demonstrating that it causes AIDS.

Gallo has often been criticized for being extremely competitive and has been accused of stealing discoveries from others. Critics argue that his fight to patent a device to detect whether blood is infected with AIDS delayed the technology's use for a year.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:25 AM on October 6, 2008

On the other hand, It might just be that they can't award the prize to more than 3 individual and they wanted to credit the 2 for AIDS that made the greatest contributions to science with their discovery rather than just the "first"
posted by Megafly at 5:27 PM on October 6, 2008

Who cares? I'll give a Nobel (which are way overrated anyway) to the one who'll discover the cure.
posted by zouhair at 5:28 PM on October 6, 2008

Dispute Behind Nobel Prize for HIV Research -- "French researchers win for virus discovery; controversial scientist shunned."
posted by ericb at 10:04 PM on October 6, 2008

Who cares? I'll give a Nobel (which are way overrated anyway) to the one who'll discover the cure.

If you think people are having trouble finding a cure now, just think about how hard it would be if they didn't even know what they were curing.
posted by grouse at 10:14 AM on October 7, 2008

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