Well, being a total believer that science and research enables the world to be a better place (when it’s used in a proper way of course) I was totally psyched when I found out today that the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008 was announced today. AND HOORAY! HOORAY! HOORAY! The winners this year are: Harald zur Hausen (for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer) and Francoise Barré-Sinoussi (heck yeah! woman kick ass at research too!) and Luc Montagnier (for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus). Mr. zur Hausen received half of the price, while Barré-Sinoussi and Montaigner received the other half.


  • Papilloma virus and cervical cancer

Going against the dogma, Harald zur Hausen postulated a link between human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer.  He assumed that the tumour cells, if they contained an oncogenic virus, should harbour viral DNA integrated into their genomes. The HPV genes promoting cell proliferation should therefore be detectable by specifically searching tumour cells for such viral DNA. Harald zur Hausen pursued this idea for over 10 years by searching for different HPV types, a search made difficult by the fact that only parts of the viral DNA were integrated into the host genome. He found novel HPV-DNA in cervix cancer biopsies, and thus discovered the new, tumourigenic HPV16 type in 1983. In 1984, he cloned HPV16 and 18 from patients with cervical cancer. The HPV types 16 and 18 were consistently found in about 70% of cervical cancer biopsies throughout the world. (Press Release from The Nobel Foundation)

  • HIV

Soon after the discovery of the virus, several groups contributed to the definitive demonstration of HIV as the cause of acquired human immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier’s discovery made rapid cloning of the HIV-1 genome possible. This has allowed identification of important details in its replication cycle and how the virus interacts with its host. Furthermore, it led to development of methods to diagnose infected patients and to screen blood products, which has limited the spread of the pandemic. The unprecedented development of several classes of new antiviral drugs is also a result of knowledge of the details of the viral replication cycle. The combination of prevention and treatment has substantially decreased spread of the disease and dramatically increased life expectancy among treated patients. The cloning of HIV enabled studies of its origin and evolution. The virus was probably passed to humans from chimpanzees in West Africa early in the 20th century, but it is still unclear why the epidemic spread so dramatically from 1970 and onwards.

Identification of virus−host interactions has provided information on how HIV evades the host’s immune system by impairing lymphocyte function, by constantly changing and by hiding its genome in the host lymphocyte DNA, making its eradication in the infected host difficult even after long-term antiviral treatment. (Press Release from The Nobel Foundation)


If you want to read the complete Press Release, go here.