2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine

The Nobel Assembly at Karolinka Institute is awarding the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Harald zur Hausen of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Germany, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Virology Department of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, and Luc Montagnier of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention. Dr. zur Hausen won his portion of the award for proving that the human papilloma viruses (HPV) causes cervical cancer, while Dr. Barre-Sinoussi and Dr. Montagnier won their portions of the award for discovering the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the early 1980s.

Dr. zur Hausen proved HPV caused cervical cancer by searching for pieces of viral DNA within the tumors. He discovered that HPV is actually a family of viruses, only some of which cause cervical cancer. His research has led to a greater understanding of the formation of cervical cancer and the development of vaccines against HPV which have provided approximately 95% protection against the specific forms of the virus most strongly associated with cervical cancer. 

Dr. zur Hausen received his MD from the University of Dusseldorf in 1960. He was a research fellow at both the University of Dusseldorf and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia before attaining several staff research and teaching positions at medical schools throughout Germany. He has been a Professor Emeritus at the German Cancer Research Centre since 2003. 

Dr. Barre-Sinoussi and Dr. Montagnier were able to positively identify the HIV virus by examining material from swollen lymph nodes of patients in the early stages of the disease and the blood of patients in its later stages. Their discovery enabled other researchers to prove the connection between HIV and AIDS, made rapid cloning of the virus possible (which greatly enhanced studies of its evolution and origins), and led to methods to diagnose patients and screen blood products to help reduce the spread of the disease. 

Dr. Barre-Sinoussi received her Ph.D. in virology from the Institut Pasteur and University of Sciences in Paris, France in 1975. After a brief internship at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Dr. Barre-Sinoussi returned to the Institut Pasteur where she now heads her own research group within the Virology Department. 

Dr. Montagnier received his MD from the Sorbonne in 1960. He then spent several years working at various virology labs in the United Kingdom before returning to France as the director of the Institut de Radium then moved on to the Institut Pasteur where he performed the research on HIV with Dr. Barre-Sinoussi. Dr. Montagnier is currently the director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention. 

TFOT has previously reported on the 2007 Nobel Prize awards including the 2007 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine won by Oliver Smithies, Mario R. Cappecchi, and Sir Martin J. Evans, the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics won by Albert Fert and and Peter Grunberg, and the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry won by Gerhardt Ertl. 

More about the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine can be found in the official press release here. You can read more about Dr. Barre-Sinoussi in her official Institut Pasteur biography here (PDF). More about Dr. Montagnier and his research can be found here.