When I was a little girl I would observe the world and eagerly investigate with curious eyes. My favorite toys were a fully functioning toy microscope and the pieces of a home-phone I had dissembled myself and had been trying to put together, with repeated electric shocks because I had no idea what I was doing. Yet the fact that there was a ringtone made me feel proud of myself and of what I had achieved. Or my fruitful efforts to use my toy telescope to find a new planet that would be named after me, I still hope to discover a comet or two.
I would pick up flies that had died of various reasons and look at them through my microscope, sometimes dissecting them. Their internal organs were like art, transparent and visually amazing. I thought that I was a lonely child or at least not your average one, until I read an interview with the Nobel Prize Winner of 2008, Francoise Barrè-Sinoussi (1). Her fascination and journey to the world of science was the same, and her childhood filled with curiosity for the things around her. It is then I realized that we all belong to a special club of those, who do not just the let the world pass us by but we stop it and dare to look it in the eyes and all the wonders it possesses.
This entry is dedicated to the three 2008 Nobel Prize winners in physiology and medicine.
You are allowed to have opinions, but I base mine on epidemiological, biological and psychological facts. They are not driven by anything else then what experienced scientists have come to know after 35 years of studies. So please, don’t take it the wrong way and if you leave comments. Make them constructive.
What the Nobel Prize represents is in many ways debatable. To claim that the Nobel Prize is flawless and under no critique is to choose to be blinded and highly unscientific, however my objective is neither to glorify nor criticize; it is simply to report and discuss the winners. Not the prize itself.
For those of you who have no idea what they won for. Here is a short and non-complicated summary.
Harald Zur Hausen had noticed that certain types of viruses could affect the development of cervical cancer. However, the scientific world was not convinced. It took 10 years of persistent research, in 1983 he presented clear association between certain types (16, 18, 31& 45) of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) caused cervical cancer.
Thanks to this discovery, early screening and primary preventions in form of HPV-vaccines are tools that are bound to save millions of female lives all over the globe. It has also changed how we think of communicable and non-communicable diseases and the impact of sexual behaviour on cancer, since HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases on our planet.
Francoise Barrè-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier found and described patients with swollen lymph nodes. The viruses within these patients were isolated and cultivated, the result was a new type of virus named humant immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was long disputed if the American scientist Robert Gallo should also be acknowledged. The Nobel Committee have decided to only award Francoise and Luc on the basis of original discovery.
The discovery of HIV has meant a lot to the treatment of the disease and the contamination of clinical spread by untested blood and other bodily fluids. However, even though the HIV/Aids pandemic was given a name it has not yet been given a cure.
The pandemic was an epidemic by the time of its discovery in 1983 and still by the time the first medication was available in 1987, 100,000 to 150,000 cases of HIV and AIDS, a medication called Retrovir (2)
Despite new generations of drugs, the epidemic became a pandemic. Today the estimation has raised to 33.0 million people living with HIV (3). That we know of, the dark numbers are much greater. Lack of proper health care and reliable data from developing countries are a big issue in HIV and AIDS statistics.One of the main contributors to the spread of HIV and AIDS in developing as well as developed countries are attitudes and risky sex behaviours. The accessibility to medical tests and screening for HIV has been available since the mid 90’s as a standard in health care but many have failed to use such services. Particularly in cultures where HIV is stigmatized and those who are affected are assigned a particular lifestyle.
The incidence rate of males has more than doubled over the past 20 years (3). To truly overcome HIV, we must overcome the stigma around it (4) We must also invest in sex-education for adolescents as well break down stigmas of regular tests among all sexually active adults as well as realise that there is no typical HIV patient; it is just like any other disease, sex is not the only way to get it and you do not have to live any particular lifestyle to get I it in this day and age (5). Education does not mean encouragement to adolescent which has been a popular opinion for many years. If you tell someone facts, they can’t go around pretending that it’s fiction.
We also have to stop assuming and start investigating. These three scientists have laid the ground; they have placed a question for us. But it is up to us to answer it and as soon as we start accepting that others have the answer we will not prevail and maybe one day praise the one who has found a cure.
And we must never forget that around the corner. The next new virus will wait, take a victim and through science we will win once again.
KiBladet, Karolinska Institutet nr 6 / 2008