Nobel Prize Shared for AIDS and Cancer Innovations
October 17, 2008
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Three European scientists were awarded with the 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine for their individual findings regarding viruses that cause AIDS and cervical cancer.
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, French scientists recognized for uncovering human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), shared the prize with Harald Zur Hausen, the German doctor and scientist who discovered human papilloma viruses (HPV). Zur Hausen received half of the prize money, while Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier split the remainder.
According to the Nobel Assembly, the French researchers’ HIV discoveries in the 1980s allowed scientists to understand the biology of AIDS, as well as how to best treat it. Their findings allowed blood to be screened for HIV and led to the treatment of AIDS with antiviral drugs.
Zur Hausen discovered two high-risk types of HPV, which are viruses that can cause cervical cancer. Once these two strains were identified, a vaccine was developed to protect against the infection. The FDA approved the vaccine Gardasil in 2006, and it is administered to females ages nine to 26 to prevent against HPV.
Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier’s breakthroughs were achieved with the help of U.S. researcher, Dr. Robert Gallo. Gallo and Montagnier had been engaged in an ongoing dispute over who held what role in HIV and AIDS research. In the 1990s, it was settled that the French pair isolated HIV one year before Gallo did. Only three people can share the Nobel Prize, and Gallo did not receive formal recognition for his work.