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This article is from the In-Depth Report Celebrating The Nobel Prizes
60-Second Science

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Germany's Harald Zur Hausen and France's Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi share this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The two French scientists discovered HIV, which quickly led to blood screening and treatments. The German showed that cervical cancer was caused by the human papilloma virus, paving the way to a vaccine. Steve Mirsky reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Germany’s Harald zur Hausen and France’s Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi share the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded October 6th.

Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier discovered HIV. Shortly after reports in the early 1980s of a new immunodeficiency syndrome, researchers all over the world raced to find the cause. The two French scientists cultured cells from lymph nodes of patients. They first detected the enzyme reverse transcriptase, which meant that a retrovirus was active. Further searching turned up retroviral particles, which could kill white blood cells and which also reacted with antibodies from infected patients. These discoveries made possible unprecedented rapid development of blood screening techniques and of new antiviral therapies.

Zur Hausen defied the medical establishment and postulated in the 1970s that cervical cancer was caused by the human papilloma virus. He was able to isolate viral DNA in tumors. He also determined that there were multiple kinds of papilloma viruses, and that only some caused cancer. His discovery led to the development of a vaccine against cervical cancer.

—Steve Mirsky 

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