for National Geographic News
The 2008 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been split between scientists who discovered the virus that causes AIDS and the virologist who identified human papilloma virus (HPV) as the cause of cervical cancer.
The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, today announced that half of the 10-million-Swedish-kronor (1.4-million-U.S.-dollar) prize goes to French researchers Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi for identifying human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
Joint winner of the prize is German HPV discoverer Harald zur Hausen. Nobel Prize committee member Jan Andersson of the Karolinska Institute said the joint award was "for the discovery of two viruses of great importance in diseases for humans."
Montagnier and Barré-Sinoussi are credited with discovering HIV at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1983. The researchers described the virus after identifying it in the swollen lymph nodes of infected patients.
The work revealed that HIV attacks the body's infection-fighting white blood cells, triggering AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
Sufferers had caught highly unusual diseases, such as rare skin cancers and lung infections.
AIDS has killed around 25 million people worldwide, orphaning more than 2 million children in Africa alone.
Montagnier and Barré-Sinoussi's research was vital to understanding the disease and to the subsequent development of antiviral drugs for combating HIV infection, the Nobel Prize committee stated.
While many scientists were crucial to early AIDS research, the Nobel specifically recognizes the initial isolation of the virus, said committee member Göran Hansson of the Karolinska Institute.
While credit for the HIV breakthrough has been a source of controversy in the past, "it's completely evident by now that this discovery was made in Paris," Hansson said.
(Related: "HIV/AIDS Emerged as Early as 1880s" [October 1, 2008].)
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