Harald zur Hausen of Germany has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2008 for discovering that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is responsible for causing cancer of the cervix. Harald zur Hausen shares this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine with two scientists from France - Francoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier who have together detected the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
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An announcement regarding the fact that three scientists from two nations have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for 2008 for their efforts in discovering two near fatal viruses was made by the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
Born in Germany in 1936, Harald zur Hausen accomplished his MD at the University of Düsseldorf. Former chairman and scientific director of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Harald zur Hausen is currently a professor emeritus. Harald zur Hausen's breakthrough findings have provided us with a perceptive of the natural history of human papilloma virus (HPV) and how it is accountable for the cancer of the cervix. His research has opened new vistas for developing new vaccines that will help us greatly in preventing the virus from affecting girls and women and develop the deadly disease of cancer in them.
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During the 1970s, majority of the scientists did not accept the fact that human papilloma virus (HPV) was accountable for cervical cancer - the most common cancer among women. However, Harald zur Hausen stood firm on his belief that the cervical cancer development were actually cancer cells whose DNA had been plagued by the DNA from the HPV. He established it by demonstrating these in the cancer cell genome (a set of chromosomes). Although this may appear to be simple enough to bag a Nobel Prize, it took a decade for Harald zur Hausen to establish his belief and findings. It may be mentioned here that the issue was made more complex owing to the fact that only some parts of the DNA from HPV were found to be mingled with the host genome or chromosomes.
For several years Harald zur Hausen meticulously analyzed one biopsy of cervical cancer after another with a view to establish his theory that human papilloma virus (HPV) was accountable for the cancer of cervix. Finally, luck smiled on him in 1983 when Harald zur Hausen ultimately detected HPV type 16 DNA in the cervical tumor cells. A year later, Harald zur Hausen cloned HPV types 16 and 18 from patients suffering from cervical cancer and demonstrated that these two types of HPV were found without fail in approximately 70 per cent of biopsies done on cancer of the cervix in all parts of the world.
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It may be noted here that over five per cent of all cancers found all over the world are brought about owing to the infections caused by the unrelenting human papilloma virus (HPV). In fact, HPV is the most common infection passed on from one person to another through unsafe sexual activities and has an effect on approximately 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the population worldwide. So far, as many as 100 different types of HPV are known to man. And among these approximately 40 types of the virus communicate diseases to the genital tract and 15 among these pose extreme hazards that may eventually lead to cervical cancer. Apart from being the main cause behind the cancer of the cervix, studies have found that HPV is also related to the cancer of vulva, penis, mouth and the throat.
Significantly enough, researches conducted globally have revealed that almost 100 per cent of the 500,000 women examined and found to be suffering from cervical cancer in different parts of the world each year are infected with the deadly HPV. This is indeed a grave scenario for the health of the womenfolk.
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Born in France in 1947, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi obtained her Ph.D. in virology (study of viruses) from the Institut Pasteur in Garches in Paris. Currently, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi is serving as a professor and director of the Regulation of Retroviral Infections Unit in the Virology Department of the Institut Pasteur.
Luc Montagnier, who shared this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi for discovering the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is the senior among the two scientists. He was born in France in 1932 and acquired his Ph.D. in virology from the University of Paris. Presently, Luc Montagnier is a professor emeritus and director at the World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention based in Paris.
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As mentioned earlier, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier worked together to discover the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that is believed to transmit diseases to approximately one per cent of the total human population! Their research has helped to discover the shape of the virus and also how it performs bio-chemically in the human immune system. Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier have demonstrated that HIV is a retro-virus that plagues as well as combines with the DNA of the host cells and then produces a duplicate of the cell. Significantly, the HIV is known as the first identified human lentivirus - a virus that has a prolonged gestation period. It has been found that HIV continuously makes the human immune system feeble as the lymphocytes or the cells in the immune system attacked by the virus reproduce quickly replacing the lymphocytes. As a result of this, the immune system is unable to safeguard the body against the assaulting pathogens or disease bearing micro-organisms.
Although Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier won the Nobel Prize in 2008, they began their research in 1981 when soon after news of a new form of immunodeficiency syndrome started flowing in from different parts of the world. The scientists took pains to segregate the cells from the inflamed lymph joints of the patients who were in the early stages of the new acquired immune deficiency syndrome or disorder and cultured the samples in the laboratory. During the course of their study, Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier found certain hints of retro-virus activity. They also detected hints of reverse transcriptase - an enzyme that aid the RNA of the retro-virus to be replicated into the DNA form and enable them to combine with the DNA of the host cells. Their belief that the human immunodeficiency viruses were incapacitating the body's immune system was further strengthened when they discovered the presence of retroviral 'buds' on the affected host cells.
Following four years of hard toil, Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier succeeded in isolating many samples of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from people who were sexually infected, hemophiliacs (people suffering from blood-clotting disorder), mother to baby transmissions as well as blood transfusion patients.
Close on the heels of the findings by Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier, many other scientists came out with evidence that HIV was accountable for bringing in AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Many of them even went ahead and cloned the HIV-1 genome (a set of chromosomes) and this revealed vital aspects regarding the manner in which the virus copied itself and intermingled with the host cell. Cloning of the HIV-1 genome has also facilitated the diagnostic and screening mechanisms. And this consecutively has helped in restricting the deadly disease as well as developing new anti-viral medicines.