Scientist who made HIV testing day possible recalls big find

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    French scientist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi made HIV testing possible by discovering the virus. (AP Images)

    French scientist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi made HIV testing possible by discovering the virus. (AP Images)

    This week marks international HIV testing day with testing-related activities going on all over the region.

     

    This week marks international HIV testing day with testing-related activities going on all over the region. For example you can get into the Mutter Museum for free when you get a rapid HIV test.

    The scientist who made HIV testing possible by discovering the virus recently visited Philadelphia, and talked about the research leading up to that big find. French virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was working at Pasteur Institute in the early 1980s, when a doctor asked her research group if they could investigate what he suspected was a retrovirus.

    “Everything went quite fast,” she recalled. “We had the first meeting with the clinician at the end of 1982, and he went to patient in his hospital.”

    The doctor asked one of his patients who was suffering from Aids-like symptoms if he’d be willing to participate in scientific research. “Of course, the regulations at that time were not at all the regulations that we have today,” said Barré-Sinoussi. “The patient said yes, verbally, that was sufficient to get a lymph node biopsy just after New Year and we put the cell into the culture.”

    Her team checked the culture regularly, and just after a few days they saw cell death. “Virus production, cell death, virus production and then cell death. So it’s how we started to understand really that it was a relationship between the virus production and the cell death.”

    Barré-Sinoussi asked a microscopist if he could see virus particles. “It was hard for him, because it was only a few cells that were producing the virus. But one day he called us, and he said ‘I think I got it, please come.'” Barré-Sinoussi called one of her friends and colleagues to tell him about their discovery. ” He said, ‘my god Francoise, if what you’re telling me is really true, it’s going to be a terrible break through.'”

    In 2008, Barré-Sinoussi was honored with the Nobel Prize for her work on HIV.

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