Hall of Fame Spotlight: Francoise Barre-Sinoussi

Madeleine Janz

June 30, 2019

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Francoise Barre-Sinoussi dedicated her life to virology and the study of new diseases. She always had a love for the sciences even before she knew the words for it. As a child, Barre-Sinoussi enjoyed being in nature to observe animals and plants in their natural habitats. At this time, and through her growth into a young adult, Barre-Sinoussi yearned to become a doctor but believed it would be too expensive and time consuming so she went into a career in science instead. Although it wasn't her initial dream, science and research became her passion.

Barre-Sinoussi then invested her time into studying at the University of Paris where she eventually earned her bachelors. During her studies, she looked for part time work at a laboratory, eventually finding herself at the Pasteur Institute. Barre-Sinoussi quickly transferred to full time work at the lab when she realized how much she enjoyed research. In the last two years of her studies, Barre-Sinoussi relied on classmates notes to study for exams because she spent her time in the lab instead of in class. Despite this, she continued to score among the highest marks of the class in part due to her real world experience.

After graduation, Barre-Sinoussi went to the United States to complete her PhD and spend some time working in labs. Once she returned to the Pasteur Institute, in the 1980's, what is now called the AIDS epidemic was in full swing. At the time there wasn't even an accurate understanding of who could get the disease, often leaving the public and medical providers to lay blame on gay men. Barre-Sinoussi and her colleagues were faced with the question of what caused this late stage disease and if it had anything to do with retroviruses. This classification was her speciality so she began working on this question immediately.

By 1982, her research had determined that the only known retrovirus HTLV 1 could not be causing AIDS so she set to work on finding another. Using a lymph node biopsy from a late-stage AIDS patient Barre-Sinoussi found what is now known as HIV, the retrovirus that, without treatment, can devolve into AIDS. This discovery was integral in the movement to understand that anyone can contract HIV or AIDS and how to actively protect oneself from the virus and disease. In 1992, Barre-Sinoussi was appointed head of the Biology of Retroviruses Unit at the Pasteur Institute and continues to work on a cure for HIV.

In this continuation of research and development, Barre-Sinoussi regularly works with the World Health Association to educate people around the world about HIV prevention. In 2006, Barre-Sinoussi was inducted into the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame and in 2008 she received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Barre-Sinoussi officially retired in 2017 but continues her advocacy work to this day.

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