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Virus breakthroughs win rewards

Tuesday October 7th, 2008

Researchers who discovered the viral causes of two deadly diseases are the winners of this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The prize has been awarded for two discoveries - although one researcher has been omitted from the award.

One discovery is the link between HIV and AIDs in the early 1980s - noted as one of the fastest epidemiological breakthroughs ever.

The second was for the more protracted discovery of the causes of cervical cancer following the identification of the human papillomavirus.

The HIV award has gone to the French team of Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier - but not to the American co-discoverer Robert Gallo.

Professor Harald zur Hausen, of the University of Duesseldorf, Germany, is honoured for going "against current dogma" in linking HPV to cervical cancer. The vaccine against this cancer is being introduced in Britain just this year.

The Nobel Prize citation states: "Never before have science and medicine been so quick to discover, identify the origin and provide treatment for a new disease entity.

"Successful anti-retroviral therapy results in life expectancies for persons with HIV infection now reaching levels similar to those of uninfected people."

The credit for the discovery of HIV was a source of tension between French and US researchers for years until it was settled by agreeing that both teams should be recognised as co-discoverers.

Dr Michel Kazatchkine, director of the Global Fund, which raises cash to fight the disease around the world, said: "Many people living with the disease across the world are alive because of the groundbreaking work of Dr Barré-Sinoussi and Dr Montagnier.

"Their discovery has changed the face of the disease in rich and poor countries
alike. This award is great news for all those who are now working to expand access to prevention and treatment in the poorest countries of the world."

Tags: Cancer | Europe | Flu & Viruses

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