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A pioneering HIV researcher died Monday at the age of 91.

Elton paid tribute on Instagram, writing that Mathilde Krimexemplified the notion that a single person can change the world.”

He added: ”She was a visionary leader, a pioneer and committed the entirety of her life to finding a cure and treatment for HIV. In doing so she spoke out frequently against the stigma faced by the individuals affected with compassion and real love and affection. I had the great privilege of knowing her — she is one of the real heroes in this long struggle.”

Amid the panic, confusion and discrimination of the HIV epidemic’s earliest days, the biologist stood out — using science and straight talk, in the 1980s and beyond, to dispel fear, stigma, and misinformation among politicians and the public.

“She has likely literally saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives because of what she did during the initial days and years of the epidemic,” says Corey Johnson, speaker of the New York City Council. “Every single one of us living with HIV today who are on medicines, where now we can live and thrive — it’s because of people like Dr.Mathilde Krim.”

Born in Italy in 1926, Krim received her doctorate in biology from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. She became a steadfast activist for human rights early on, lived in Israel for a time and moved to the United States in the late 50s.

 She was studying viruses and cancer when the AIDS epidemic emerged in the early 1980s and was among the first scientists to raise funds for research to develop AIDS treatment, working with celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor. Krim was the founding chair of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (now called the Foundation for AIDS Research) and went on to raise millions of dollars to finance basic research, clinical trials of drugs and other treatments and AIDS awareness programs.