Feature Profile

A Nobel cause

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2930 (Published 09 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2930
  1. Annette Tuffs, freelance journalist
  1. 1Heidelberg
  1. atuffs{at}web.de

    Annette Tuffs talks to Nobel prize winner, Harald zur Hausen, about his career

    Harald zur Hausen’s small office is on the bottom floor of a three storey building that might well be named after him in the future, but now is called Applied Tumour Virology and belongs to the German Cancer Research Centre next door.

    At 72, zur Hausen, one of the three Nobel prize laureates in medicine 2008, comes here almost every day, whenever his commitments as a much sought after speaker at meetings allow. Although he retired as chairman of the cancer research centre in May 2003, he remains active in research, especially in the search for viruses. He tells me that viruses are responsible for about 20% of all malignant tumours and so need to be explored much further “The most likely candidates for viral aetiology are lymphoma and leukaemia,” he says, pointing out that new viruses and subtypes are detected every year.

    The Nobel prize did not come as a big surprise, as he openly admits, but it was certainly not expected this year. He shared the prize with Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinnoussi, the discoverers of HIV, and some think that Robert Gallo, who led the other team working on elucidation of HIV, should also have been recognised.

    Zur Hausen has received the award for his work in the 1980s showing that human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 can cause cervical dysplasia and consequently cancer of the cervix. This opened the way to the development of vaccines …

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