Nobel medicine prize awarded to 3 Europeans

Three European scientistshave won the 2008 Nobel prize for medicine for discovering the viruses that cause cervical cancer and AIDS.

Three European scientistshave won the 2008 Nobel prize for medicine for discovering the viruses that cause cervical cancer and AIDS.

Harald zur Hausen of Germany won for his discovery of the human papilloma viruses that can cause cervical cancer, while Françoise Barré -Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier of France won for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

"The importance of Harald zur Hausen's discovery is that we now know  HPV is a cause of cervical cancer," Jan Andersson of the Nobel advisory committee said Monday.

"The identification of the high-risk types has improved screening and generated much more accuracy in the tests for risk of acquiring this malignancy."

In 2006, the Gardasil vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada for the prevention of cervical cancer in girls and women ages nine to 26. The vaccine protects against the two strains of HPV that zur Hausen discovered.

"I'm not prepared for this," zur Hausen, 72, of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, told The Associated Press by telephone. "We're drinking a little glass of bubbly right now."

Sweden's Karolinska Institute, which awarded the prize, said the German scientist received half of the $1.4 million US prize, while the two French scientists split the other half.

Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier were cited for identifying HIV in early and late stages of infection from lymph nodes 25 years ago. 

Other scientists built on that first step to learn how HIV replicates and damages cells, which led to a way to screen the blood supply and provide life-saving treatments, the citation said.  

"We naively thought that the discovery of the virus would allow us to quickly learn more about it, to develop diagnostic tests — which has been done — and to develop treatments, which has also been done to a large extent and, most of all, develop a vaccine that would prevent the global epidemic,"  Barré-Sinoussi told AP by telephone from Cambodia.

Medicine is traditionally the first of the Nobel prizes to be awarded every year.

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish man credited with inventing dynamite, created the prizes in his will in the areas of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace. The economics prize was created by Sweden's central bank in 1968.

The prizes include $1.4 million, a diploma and an invitation to the awards ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec. 10. That's the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.

Last year, the Nobel prize for medicine was awarded to American researchers Mario Capecchi and Oliver Smithies and Briton Martin Evans for their work on a technique that manipulates genes in mice.

That technique has enabled scientists to study heart disease, diabetes, cancer and cystic fibrosis, among other diseases.

With files from the Associated Press