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French scientists receive top honour

Researchers who discovered HIV share Nobel Prize in medicine with German cervical cancer expert.

Two French scientists who discovered the HIV virus was responsible for AIDS have received the Nobel Prize for medicine in recognition of their work.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier will share the prize with German scientist Harald zur Hausen who discovered the link between human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

More than 25 million people have died of HIV/Aids since 1981.

The Nobel citation said: “HIV has generated a novel pandemic. Never before has science and medicine been so quick to discover, identify the origin and provide treatment for a new disease entity.

“Successful anti-retroviral therapy results in life expectancies for persons with HIV infection now reaching levels similar to those of uninfected people.”

It added that Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier's discovery “made rapid cloning of the HIV-1 genome possible”.

“This has allowed identification of important details in its replication cycle and how the virus interacts with its host. Furthermore, it led to development of methods to diagnose infected patients and to screen blood products, which has limited the spread of the pandemic,” it said.

While there is no cure for HIV, current treatments allow people to live with the virus for decades, however, such medicines are not widely available in many poor countries around the world.

Dr Montagnier told the Associated Press he wished that Dr Robert Gallo, an American scientist who also claimed to have discovered the link had been included in the prize.

"It is certain that he deserved this as much as us two," he said.

Dr Gallo, who is director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland, told the AP that it was "a disappointment" not to share the Nobel but that all three winners deserved the honor.

A battle between the French and American scientists over the discovery has never officially been settled by the scientific community, but the lack of Nobel recognition for Dr Gallo is seen as bringing the debate to a close.

While in 1987, US President Ronald Reagan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac agreed that the two teams should get equal recognition for the discovery and share proceeds from any AIDS tests, the scientific community remains unconvinced.

An investigation into Dr Gallo’s work in 1993 found that he had relied on some of the French scientists’ work, a claim later admitted by the scientist who said it had been an honest mistake.

In 1994 the US government agreed to give France more royalties, acknowledging that Gallo had relied on the French.

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