French, German scientists win Nobel Medicine Prize

6th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

French and German researchers share the first 2008 Nobel Prize for their discoveries in HIV and cervical cancer.

6 October 2008

STOCKHOLM -- French and German scientists credited with the discovery of the viruses behind AIDS and cervical cancer won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday, the first of the prestigious awards to be announced in 2008.

France's Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, who shared one half of the award, discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS by destroying immune cells, one of the most deadly diseases of modern times. 

Harald zur Hausen of Germany claimed 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 Foundation 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".

AIDS -- acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- first came to public notice in 1981, when US doctors noted an unusual cluster of deaths among young homosexuals in California and New York.

It killed at least 25 million people, and 33 million others are living with HIV or AIDS.

In May 1983, in a paper published in the US journal Science, a team from France's Pasteur Institute, led by Montagnier and including Barre-Sinoussi, described a suspect virus found in a patient who died of AIDS.

Their groundbreaking discovery was also helped by US researcher Robert Gallo's determination that the virus was indeed the cause of AIDS.

Both Montagnier and Gallo are co-credited with discovering that HIV causes AIDS, although for several years they each claimed it was their own discovery, leading to a legal and even diplomatic dispute between France and the United States. 

The Nobel jury did not mention of Gallo in its statement. 

Barre-Sinoussi, 51, is a professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, while Montagnier, 76, is a professor emeritus and director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, also in Paris.

Meanwhile, Zur Hausen was rewarded for his work against cervival cancer, which is sometimes called "the silent killer" of women because it is so often undetected until the disease is deadly.

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

The Medicine Prize is the first award to be announced in the 2008 Nobel season.

The Physics Prize will be announced on Tuesday followed by the Chemistry Prize on Wednesday. The Literature Prize will be announced on Thursday and the Peace Prize on Friday. 

The Economics Prize will wrap up the awards on 13 October.

Laureates receive a gold medal, a diploma and SKR 10 million (EUR 1.02 million) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

The formal awarding of the prizes will take place in Stockholm on 10 December.

[AFP / Expatica]





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