The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008 was divided, one half awarded to Harald zur Hausen “for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer”, the other half jointly to Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.”

Nobelist Born Affiliation at the time of the award
Harald zur Hausen 11 March 1936, Gelsenkirchen, Germany German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi 30 July 1947, Paris, France Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit, Virology Department, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
Luc Montagnier 18 August 1932, Chabris, France World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, Paris, France


This year’s Nobel Prize awards discoveries of two viruses causing severe human diseases.

Harald zur Hausen went against current dogma and postulated that oncogenic human papilloma virus (HPV) caused cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women. He realized that HPV-DNA could exist in a non-productive state in the tumours, and should be detectable by specific searches for viral DNA. He found HPV to be a heterogeneous family of viruses. Only some HPV types cause cancer. His discovery has led to characterization of the natural history of HPV infection, an understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced carcinogenesis and the development of prophylactic vaccines against HPV acquisition.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier discovered human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Virus production was identified in lymphocytes from patients with enlarged lymph nodes in early stages of acquired immunodeficiency, and in blood from patients with late stage disease. They characterized this retrovirus as the first known human lentivirus based on its morphological, biochemical and immunological properties. HIV impaired the immune system because of massive virus replication and cell damage to lymphocytes. The discovery was one prerequisite for the current understanding of the biology of the disease and its antiretroviral treatment.

More details, please click The 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.


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