Tue, Oct 07, 2008 - Page 1 News List

French and German scientists scoop top medicine prize


French and German scientists credited with the discovery of the viruses behind AIDS and cervical cancer yesterday won the Nobel Medicine Prize, the first of the prestigious awards to be announced this year.

France’s Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, who shared one half of the award, discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, one of the biggest scourges of modern times.

Harald zur Hausen of Germany went against established opinion to claim that human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women, the jury said.

The French pair’s HIV discovery was “one prerequisite for the current understanding of the biology of the disease and its antiretroviral treatment,” the Nobel citation said.

Their work “led to development of methods to diagnose infected patients and to screen blood products, which has limited the spread of the pandemic,” it said.

“The combination of prevention and treatment has substantially decreased spread of the disease and dramatically increased life expectancy among treated patients,” it added.

Barre-Sinoussi, born in 1947, is a professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, heading up the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit in the Virology Department.

Montagnier, born in 1932, is a professor emeritus and director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention in Paris.

Meanwhile, Zur Hausen was rewarded for his work against cervical cancer, which is sometimes called “the silent killer” of women because it is so often tragically undetected until too late.

“His discovery has led to characterization of the natural history of HPV infection, and understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced carcinogenesis and the development of prophylactic vaccines against HPV acquisition,” the jury said.

“The global public health burden attributable to human papilloma viruses is considerable,” it said, pointing out that 5 percent of cancers worldwide are caused by the virus.

Today, there is not only a simple smear test that can detect HPV, but also two effective vaccines against it.

Zur Hausen, 72, is a professor emeritus and former chairman and scientific director of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg.

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