Birth Date: 30 July 1947
Place of Birth: Paris, France
Nationality: French
Occupation/Field of Study French virologist, co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of HIV.


KEYWORDS: Nobel Prize, France, Virology, AIDS



Françoise Barré-Sinoussi shared a Nobel Prize in 2008 with Luc Montagnier for the “discovery of human immunodeficiency virus”1 (HIV), which allowed the development of more effective AIDS treatments.



Born in Paris in 1947, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi obtained her Baccalauréat and enrolled at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Paris in 1966.

Her collaboration with Institut Pasteur started in 1971, when she joined a group of researchers under the supervision of Jean-Claude Chermann, who became her mentor2. Barré-Sinoussi earned her PhD in virology in 1974. She then spent a year doing post-doctoral research at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, before returning to Institut Pasteur to work in Luc Montagnier unit. Barré-Sinoussi married a technician at Radio France in 1978.

At the end of 1982, Montagnier wanted to find out whether a retrovirus could be responsible for a new infectious disease3. It was a lymph node biopsy from a patient that enabled Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier to isolate the virus, later named human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)3. Their joint publication of such findings in Science in May 1983 was the one that won them the Nobel Prize in 2008. In 1992, Barré-Sinoussi became the head of the Biology of Retroviruses Unit (until 2006), which was renamed the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit in 2005. The Unit carries out vaccine research2. She worked on HIV pathogenesis and on controlling HIV disease progression until her retirement in the autumn of 2015.

From the 1980s until well into the 2000s, Barré-Sinoussi co-operated with resource-limited countries in Asia (in particular in Cambodia and Vietnam) and in Africa on HIV prevention, training staff and sharing her knowledge. Barré-Sinoussi is a relentless promoter of human rights, equality and health for everyone, especially for the most vulnerable citizens4.

Apart from her continuous fight for access to medical treatment in countries where it is not widely available3, Barré-Sinoussi has also spoken up in international debates. In 2009, she addressed, along with three other scientists, an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI in protest of his statements that condoms are ineffective in the AIDS crisis4.

Barré-Sinoussi was President-Elect of the International AIDS Society between 2012 and 2014, and remains a member of its Governing Council. As its president, Barré-Sinoussi advocated on behalf of women in science and fought for an increase in female participants in clinical trials. She is at the origin of the IAS’ “Towards an HIV Cure” initiative and she is the current chair of the French National Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis (ANRS) Scientific Advisory Board5.



Barré-Sinoussi specialised in retroviruses6, mainly in retroviral infections connected to cancers, how to control them and the effect they have on the host. It was Jean Claude Chermann who gave Barré-Sinoussi her first career opportunity and introduced her to the laboratory research at Institut Pasteur. She collaborated with Luc Montagnier for around a decade, from the late 1970s to the late 1980s7.

When Chermann left the Institut in 1987, four years had to pass before Barré-Sinoussi was named head of the Biology of Retroviruses Unit. Montagnier is said to have been among those who voted against her nomination8. In 1997, Montagnier left for the USA to be able to continue working even after he reached the age of retirement and moved to China for the same reason in 2010.

Barré-Sinoussi isolated the HIV virus (then named lymphadenopathy-associated virus or LAV) in January 1983. She sent a sample to the laboratory of American researcher Robert Gallo. He later claimed to have discovered what causes AIDS, publishing about his discovery of the virus HTLV-3 in Science in March 1984. AIDS blood tests carried out by both American and French teams proved in 1985 that LAV and HTLV were the same. The dispute over the naming of the virus resulted in International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses deciding to call it HIV. Institut Pasteur applied for the American patent for the blood test. The legal dispute over the discovery and patent was settled in March 1987, when the French Prime minister and American President officially announced that both teams had discovered the virus that causes AIDS and thus shared the rights to the patent8.



One way forward is to better recognise the work of women, although I think that this is already progressing. Another issue is children. I made the choice not to have children because I thought it was too difficult at that time to have a career and a family — although it might not be the best solution and many other women scientists do choose to have a family. Certainly we can better organise research institutions to offer childcare, for instance. While we all can agree that equity is a good thing, women shouldn’t be selected just because they are women.

cited by Gomez-Touriño, Iria (15 Oct. 2014), “Q&A Françoise Barré-Sinoussi”, Nature 514, S8-S9.

Men in general considered women as technicians. When I finished my thesis and started looking for a permanent job, I was told : ‘.… Women never did anything in the field of research.’ … But this has inspired me further to show to men that a woman can also do good things.

cited by Gomez-Touriño, Iria (15 Oct. 2014), “Q&A Françoise Barré-Sinoussi”, Nature 514, S8-S9.

It is our duty as researchers to also be militants [… ] Researcher has to work with the local community organisations to lower the price of the drugs or to stop the oppression of the minorities.

cited by Lagarde, Olivier de (18 Feb. 2014),”Françoise Barré-Sinoussi: ‘Il est de notre devoir de devenir des chercheurs militants’”, France Info; (my translation).

I didn’t see myself doing both, the research and bringing up children. I know myself, I would have both done badly. So I did the research. [… My husband] said that it was up to me to decide.

cited by Favereau, Eric (1 Dec. 2008), “Moteur de recherche”, Liberation.



1985: Galien Prize for the Viral Oncology Unit of the Pasteur Institute (France)
1985: Sovac Prize for the Viral Oncology Unit of the Pasteur Institute (France)
1986: Förderpreis für die Europäische Wissenschaft, (Körber Stiftung) (Germany)
1988: Award of the French Academy of Medicine (France)
1990: Chevalier of Order of Merit (France)
1991: Prize “Madame Europe Club V.R.A.I.” (France)
1993: King Faisal International Prize of Medicine (Acquired Immunodeficiency Diseases) (Saudi Arabia)
1993: Prize Medicine and Research of the Institute of Sciences of the Health, Paris (France)
1996: Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (France)
2001: Emeritus Award of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
2002: Officer of Order of Merit (France)
2003: ARRI award in Biomedical Sciences
2006: Officer of the Legion of Honour (France)
2007: Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame recipient
2008: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
2009: Elected member of the National Academy of Science
2009: Commander of the Legion of Honour in France
2009: Honorary Doctorate of Medicine, Tulane University
2010 President of Honour of the Institut Pasteur International Network
2013: Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour in France
2013: Fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Academy
2014: Honorary Doctor of Medicine, University of New South Wales
2014: Honorary Doctor, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)



Francoise Barré-Sinoussi with a drawing of the HI virus. Source: Sketches of Science

Behind the Fear (2016), dir. Nicole Zwiren, Livamond Productions, USA,  Documentary.

Passeurs (2015), dir. Pamela Varela, Ananda Productions, France. Documentary.

Steger, Volker (2013), Sketches of Science: Photo sessions with Nobel Laureates, Stockholm, Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

Nobel Minds (2008), co-produced by Sveriges Television AB and BBC World, television.



Among more than 280 publications by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, the following are particularly important:

with Alizon, M. / P. Sonigo / JC Chermann / P. Tiollais / L. Montagnier / S. Wain-Hobson  (1984),  ”Molecular cloning of lymphadenopathy-associated virus”, Nature, Dec 20 Jan 2;312(5996), 757-60.

Barré-Sinoussi, F. (2012), Pour un monde sans sida : un combat partagé (dialogues with François Bouvier), Paris, Albin Michel.                    

with Cardin, Hélène / Danielle Messager, (2013), La révolution sida, Paris, Odile JAcob

with Chermann, JC. / F. Rey  / MT Nugeyre / S. Chamaret / J. Gruest  / C. Dauguet / C. Axler-Blin / F. Vézinet-Brun / C. Rouzioux / W. Rozenbaum / L. Montagnier  (1983), “Isolation of a T-lymphotropic retrovirus from a patient at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)”  Science, May; 220 (4599), 868-71.

with Darlix, JL / C. Gabus / MT Nugeyre / F. Clavel  (1990), ”Cis elements and trans-acting factors involved in the RNA dimerization of the human immunodeficiency virus HIV-1”, Journal of molecular biology, 216(3), 689-99.

with Diop, OM / A. Gueye / M. Dias-Tavares / C. Kornfeld / A. Faye / P. Ave  / M. Huerre / S. Corbet / MC Müller-Trutwin / (2000), “High levels of viral replication during primary simian immunodeficiency virus SIVagm infection are rapidly and strongly controlled in African green monkeys”,  J. Virol., 74 (16), 7538-47.

with Estaquier, J. / T. Idziorek  / F. de Bels / B. Hurtrel / AM Aubertin / A. Venet / M. Mehtali / E. Muchmore / P. Michel / Y. Mouton / M. Girard  (1994), “Programmed cell death and AIDS: significance of T-cell apoptosis in pathogenic and nonpathogenic primate lentiviral infections »,  JC Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 91(20), 9431-5.

with Jean-Claude, C. /  W. Rozenbaum (1987), Le sida en question, Paris, Plon.

with Marlin, R. / M. Duriez / N. Berkane / C. de Truchis / Y. Madec / MA Rey-Cuille / JS Cummings / C. Cannou / H. Quillay / MT Nugeyre / E. Menu (2012), “Dynamic shift from CD85j/ILT-2 to NKG2D NK receptor expression pattern on human decidual NK during the first trimester of pregnancy”, PLoS ONE  7(1), 30017.

with Moreno-Nieves, U.Y. / C. Didier / Y. Lévy / D. Scott-Algara (2015), “S100A9 Tetramers, Which are Ligands of CD85j, Increase the Ability of MVAHIV-Primed NK Cells to Control HIV Infection”, Front Immunol 6, 478.

with Sáez-Cirión, A. / C. Lacabaratz / O. Lambotte / P. Versmisse / A. Urrutia  / F. Boufassa  / JF Delfraissy  /M.  Sinet / G. Pancino / A. Venet (2007), “HIV controllers exhibit potent CD8 T cell capacity to suppress HIV infection ex vivo and peculiar cytotoxic T lymphocyte activation phenotype”,  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 104(16), 6776-81.

with Saez-Cirion, A. / B. Jacquelin / M. Müller-Trutwin (2014), ”Immune responses during spontaneous control of HIV and AIDS: what is the hope for a cure?”,  Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci., 369(1645), 20130436.

with Simon, F. / P. Mauclère  / P. Roques / I. Loussert-Ajaka  / MC Müller-Trutwin / S. Saragosti / MC Georges-Courbot / F. Brun-Vézinet (1998), “Identification of a new human immunodeficiency virus type 1 distinct from group M and group O ”, Nat. Med., 4(9), 1032-7.

with Scott-Algara, D. / LX Truong / P. Versmisse / A. David / TT Luong / NV Nguyen / I. Theodorou / G. Pancino (2003), “Cutting edge: increased NK cell activity in HIV-1-exposed but uninfected Vietnamese intravascular drug users”, Journal of Immunology, 171(11), 5663-7.



“An Interview with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Ph.D.— Pushing for Better Coordination on Cure Research” (1 Mar. 2013),  <> (last accessed 2 Jul. 2016).

Barré-Sinoussi, Françoise (13 Oct. 2015), “Vaccin contre le VIH : ‘La recherche avance bien’ selon la codécouvreuse du virus” interviewed by Paul Benkimoun, Le Monde,  <> (last accessed 2 Jul. 2016).

“Barré-Sinoussi F.” (27 Oct. 2015), Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, <> (last accessed 7 Jun. 2016).

Crewdson, John (19 Nov. 1989), “1. `We Forgot To Write The Summary`”, Chicago Tribune, <> (last accessed 24 Feb. 2017).

— (19 Nov. 1989), “8. `We Sent Them What They Asked For`”, Chicago Tribune, <> (last accessed 24 Feb. 2017).

— (19 Nov. 1989), “A historical look at AIDS research from 1970 to 1987”, Chicago Tribune,  <> (last accessed 9 Jun. 2016).

— (19 Nov. 1989), “Epilogue: A Cease-fire, Some Prizes And A Very Exclusive Club”, Chicago Tribune, <> (last accessed 24 Feb. 2017).

— (19 Nov. 1989), “In Right Place At Right Time, Three French Scientists Make History”, Chicago Tribune, <> (last accessed 24 Feb. 2017).

— (2002), Science Fictions : A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Coverup, and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo, Boston, MA, Little, Brown & Company.

Eclimont, Lily, “A 78 ans, le professeur Luc Montagnier s’«exile» à Shanghai”, L’Obs,  4. 12. 2010, < > (last accessed Jul. 2016).

Favereau, Eric (1 Dec. 2008), “Moteur de recherche”, Liberation,  <> (last accessed 8 Jun. 2016).

“Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, born in 1947”, Institut Pasteur, <> (last accessed 7 Jun. 2016).

“Françoise Barré-Sinoussi – Biographical” (2008), Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Prizes 2008, Ed.Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm,  <> (last accessed 2 Jun. 2016).

“Luc Montaigner”, Encyclopedia Larousse, <> (last accessed 1 Jul. 2016).

“On The Road Toward an HIV Cure” (2014), Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings,  <> (last accessed 8 Jul. 2016).



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