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Two French scientists who discovered the AIDS virus and a German who found the virus that causes cervical cancer have been awarded the 2008 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology.

world Updated: Oct 07, 2008 00:56 IST

Two French scientists who discovered the AIDS virus and a German who found the virus that causes cervical cancer were awarded the 2008 Nobel prize for medicine or physiology on Monday.

Luc Montagnier, director of the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention, and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi of the Institut Pasteur won half the prize of $1.4 million for discovering the deadly virus that has killed millions of people since it gained notoriety in the 1980s.

Harald zur Hausen of the University of Duesseldorf and a former director of the German Cancer Research Centre, shared the other half of the prize for work that went against the current dogma as to the cause of cervical cancer. The two French scientists identified virus production in lymphocytes from patients in the early stages of acquired immunodeficiency and in blood from patients with late stages of the disease. The virus became known as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.


He was born in March 1936 in Germany and gained an MD at University of Duesseldorf.

After three years as a senior scientist at the Institute of Virology of the University of Wuerzburg, he was appointed in 1972 as Chairman and Professor of Virology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. From 1983 until 2003 he was Scientific Director of the German Cancer Centre in Heidelberg.

Zur Hausen went against current dogma and postulated that human papilloma virus caused cervical cancer.

His finding led to two vaccines that protect against certain strains of the virus.

“The discovery was one prerequisite for the current understanding of the biology of the disease and its antiretroviral treatment,” the Nobel Assembly of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute said in a statement.

The other half of the Nobel prize was awarded for the German scientist’s research that “went against current dogma” and set forth that oncogenic human papilloma virus (HPV) caused cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women.

“His discovery has led to characterisation of the natural history of HPV infection, an understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced carcinogenesis and the development of prophylactic vaccines against HPV acquisition,” the Assembly said.


He was born 1932 in France, and gained a PhD in virology at the University of Paris.

In the years before the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Montagnier made many discoveries concerning the nature of viruses. He made major contributions to the understanding of how viruses can alter the genetic information of host organisms, and significantly advanced cancer research.

His investigation of interferon, one of the body’s defenses against viruses, also opened avenues for medical cures for viral diseases. His ongoing research focuses on the search for an AIDS vaccine or cure.

Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobel prizes awarded each year. The Nobel laureate for physics will be announced on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry.


She was born in 1947 in France and gained a PhD in virology at the Institut Pasteur in Garches, France.

She is recognised as the first author of the publication that reported in 1983 the discovery of a retrovirus, later named HIV, in a patient at risk for AIDS.

Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier discovered human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Virus production was identified in lymphocytes from patients with enlarged lymph nodes in early stages of acquired immunodeficiency, and in blood from patients with late stage disease.