Let's hear it for Harald zur Hausen!

Virologist who discovered HPV shares Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Published October 6, 2008 5:48PM (EDT)

In all the controversy around the HPV vaccine, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that it wasn't that long ago that no one even realized a virus caused cervical cancer.

Today, German virologist Harald zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the 1983 discovery of the first human papilloma virus, Type 16, from biopsies of women who had cervical cancer, the New York Times reports. A year later, he cloned HPV 16 and another type of HPV 18. Of the more than 100 types now known, those two types are consistently found in 70 percent of cervical cancer biopsies around the world.

In a citation announcing the prize, the Nobel Prize committee declared: "Harald zur Hausen went against current dogma and postulated that oncogenic human papilloma virus (HPV) caused cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women."

Zur Hausen shares the prize with two French virologists, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, who discovered HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS has rivaled the worst epidemics in history, killing an estimated 25 million people, while an estimated 33 million are now living with HIV.

Zur Hausen will receive half the $1.3 million prize money, with Barre-Sinoussi and Montagnier splitting the other half. Unfortunately, some early news reports about the prize mistook Francoise for a man. Whoops! As Discover magazine puts it: "Note to Media: They Give Nobel Prizes to Women These Days."

Reached by telephone by the International Herald Tribune shortly after the announcement of the prize, zur Hausen said: "We're drinking a little glass of bubbly right now."

Cheers to all three Nobel laureates!

By Salon Staff

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