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Two virus discoveries earn doctors Nobels

Scientist Harald zur Hausen shows a photo of human papilloma virus after being awarded a share of the Nobel for medicine.

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Scientist Harald zur Hausen shows a photo of human papilloma virus after being awarded a share of the Nobel for medicine.

WASHINGTON — Two French researchers were awarded a Nobel Prize on Monday for discovering the AIDS virus, bypassing an American researcher who played a key role in the discovery.

Luc Montagnier of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute, both in Paris, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm for their 1983 identification of what was later named the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

The pair split the $1.4-million prize with Harald zur Hausen of Germany, who discovered that another virus, the human papilloma virus, or HPV, causes cervical cancer.

Excluded from the prize was Robert C. Gallo, who for years was locked in a bitter dispute with Montagnier over credit for the discovery of HIV from work he did while at the National Cancer Institute. Gallo is now at the University of Maryland.

Although the prize's rules limit the number of scientists who can win the award to three, Jans Jornvall, scientific secretary to the assembly, made it clear the committee felt that Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi deserved sole credit because in 1983 they published the first papers identifying the virus in the journal Science.

"We think the two that we named are the discoverers of the virus," Jornvall said. "If you look at the initial papers on the publication of the discovery you will find those who discovered it. "

Jornvall praised Gallo's work but said the committee based its decision on the French researchers publishing their work first.

In a written statement, Gallo congratulated the winners, adding that he was "gratified" by Montagnier's "kind statement" that he was "equally deserving."

Montagnier and Gallo were locked in a bitter dispute in the 1980s over the discovery of the virus. Beyond who should get the credit, millions of dollars were also at stake from fees for blood tests. President Ronald Reagan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac eventually signed an agreement in 1987 that divided the royalties equally.

Two virus discoveries earn doctors Nobels 10/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 3:00pm]
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