HPV scientist wins Nobel

7 Oct 2008

Scientist behind HPV cancer link wins Nobel Medicine Prize

A German scientist credited with the discovery of a virus which causes cervical cancer has won the Nobel Medicine Prize, the first of the prestigious awards to be announced.

Harald zur Hausen went against dogma at the time and claimed that human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women, the jury said.

Zur Hausen, a professor emeritus and former chairman and scientific director of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, was rewarded for his work against cervival cancer, which is sometimes called "the silent killer" of women because it is so often tragically undetected until too late.

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

"The global public health burden attributable to human papilloma viruses is considerable," it said, pointing out that five percent of cancers worldwide were caused by the virus.

Fifty to 80 percent of the population is infected with the virus, though not all infections are cancerous.
"Human papilloma virus can be detected in 99.7 percent of women with histologically confirmed cervical cancer, affecting some 500,000 women per year," it said.

Today, there is not only a simple smear test that can detect HPV, there are also two effective vaccines against it.