Professor Francois Barre-Sinoussi co-discovered the dreaded HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the cause of AIDS epidemic worldwide in 1983. But got her Nobel Prize in 2008 alongwith Luc Montagnier.
In an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times, she said, "I guess we got the Nobel Prize after 25 years because by then we could see the benefit of the discovery on treatment of patients and prevention. Treatment of patients started in 1996 and some of the first patients who got a treatment are still alive""Patients with HIV AIDS are today living with the virus but our dream is to eradicate the virus. I am still working on it today because we don't have a vaccine and we need to improve the treatment," said Professor Francois Barre-Sinoussi who is here to attend the symposium on trends and specifications in HIV Infection Management organized by Fondation Merieux.
She said, "HIV virus attacks our immune system. If you are infected by HIV, any infection you get you can die from it because your immune system is destroyed."
"The virus is capable of altering the function of our immune cells to respond to infection. We don't understand the precise mechanism of the virus as yet. This is the first virus I know which is doing this to our immune system. The virus is able to interrupt the dialogue between the cells as they communicate with each other."
Is a vaccine for AIDs in the horizon? "We don't know. It many take many years," said Professor Sinoussi who has been working on the virus for the past 25 years since she discovered it.
Even though there was a team working on locating the virus at Pasteur Institute in Paris, while others were conducting serological tests, Montagnier did the culture, she actually 'detected' the presence of the virus by looking at the enzyme activity caused by the virus, she said.
"Twenty five years ago, AIDS was a new epidemic and there were several hypothesis as to the cause of AIDS. At our Institute we were already working on retro virus (HIV is a retrovirus) which cause leukemia and cancer in animals and were rapidly within few were able to locate HIV. It is one of the first retrovirus known to affect humans," she said.
As a consequence of the discovery diagnostic tests for blood safety were developed as millions are infected by blood, by sex and drugs and from mother to the child.
She said her reaction to having found the virus was one "to rush and try to do whatever one could for the benefit of patients as there was an epidemic."
Her interest she said is only in the life and health of patients.
"If Indian scientists are focusing their attention on human disease, and science not for themselves but for patients then they have all the potential to succeed in winning more Nobel prizes ,"she added.