And it did.
Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier quickly put a paper together about the results. It ran in the May 1983 issue of Science. She presented her findings at an international conference and was invited to talk about her results at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.
"So many people ask me if we were excited about the discovery, but so many young people were dying," Barre-Sinoussi says. Hospitals were too afraid to accept patients because they didn't know how the virus spread.
She recalls seeing young men in Paris with telltale signs of the illness. Others, including the actor Rock Hudson, heard about the lab's discovery of HIV and came to Pasteur. Some of them, she says, had only a suitcase and often no money.
"They just wanted to be close to the place that made the discovery," she says. "We knew we had to work to do, and it was urgent."
At the same time, an American lab claimed to have discovered the virus. A large legal battle and diplomatic fight raged for years. Ultimately, after French and American heads of state intervened, in 1987 they were all named co-discoverers and split the royalties from the blood test. The Americans, however, did not win the Nobel Prize.
In 2008, when the Nobel Prize winners were about to be announced, the Nobel committee couldn't find Barre-Sinoussi to tell her. She had been working with doctors in Cambodia. Ever since she co-discovered the virus, she had traveled the world to try and help health professionals understand HIV better.
She says the Nobel committee called her lab and her home without luck. A reporter tracked her down first.
"When I picked up my mobile, she said, 'Francoise, have you heard?' and then she started to cry," Barre-Sinoussi says. "I thought something tragic had happened. I had already lost my husband that year and thought someone else must have died." These were tears of happiness, the journalist said, delivering the Nobel news. Barre-Sinoussi says she couldn't believe it. "It was like a dream," she says.
No resting on her laurels
Some people might retire after such an honor but not Barre-Sinoussi. She has used her fame to open more doors. She is president of the International AIDS Society and continues working with clinicians, patients and activists -- particularly those from the gay community and those who try to help people in the developing world -- as they fight to eliminate the stigma of the disease and get patients the care they need.
"This is a good thing of the Nobel Prize -- it is easier for me to get an appointment with the first lady or the president of the country," Barre-Sinoussi says. "It gives me the opportunity to try to be the voice for others. This is something that for me seems to be my responsibility, my duty."
She says she has high hopes for a vaccine, noting that recent developments show some promise. "A total cure -- the total eradication of the virus will be extremely difficult if not impossible," she says. "Although in my language we say 'impossible' is not French, so I cannot say impossible."
The attention her discovery has brought Barre-Sinoussi has changed everything, just like her friend warned, she says. It even won over the man who told her at the start of her career that a life in science would be impossible for a woman. He contacted her many years after the HIV discovery.
"He called me to congratulate me and said how impressed he was," she says. "After a while of him saying these positive things, I finally interrupted him and said, 'You mean, because a woman can actually do something in science?'
"Of course, he did not understand. He did not remember saying anything. I told him what he said. He couldn't believe it. He said he felt so bad. 'But you did,' I told him. 'You did.' And I'm so glad I did not listen."