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Harald zur Hausen

Born March 11, 1936 (1936-03-11) (age 73)
Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Nationality German
Fields Virology
Institutions German Cancer Research Center
Known for Discovery that HPV can cause cervical cancer
Notable awards 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Harald zur Hausen (born March 11, 1936) is a German virologist and professor emeritus. He has done research on cancer of the cervix, where he discovered the role of papilloma viruses, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008.



Zur Hausen was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, went to the Gymnasium in Vechta, and studied medicine at the Universities of Bonn, Hamburg and Düsseldorf and received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1960 from the University of Düsseldorf, after which he became a medical assistant.

Two years later, he joined the Institute for Microbiology at the University of Düsseldorf as a laboratory assistant. After three and a half years, he moved to Philadelphia and worked at the Virus Laboratories of the Children's Hospital together with the famous husband and wife virologists, Werner and Gertrude Henle [1], who had to escape from Nazi Germany. In a ground-breaking study, he contributed to finding for the first time that a cancer virus (Epstein-Barr virus) can transform healthy cells (lymphocytes) into cancer cells[2]. This directly showed that viruses can cause cancer cell formation. He became an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1969, he became a regular teaching and researching professor at the University of Würzburg, where he worked at the Institute for Virology. In 1972, he moved to the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. In 1977, he moved on to the University of Freiburg (Breisgau), where he headed the department of virology and hygiene. Working with Lutz Gissmann, zur Hausen first isolated human papillomavirus 6 by simple centrifugation from genital warts. Together with Ethel-Michelle de Villiers, who would later marry zur Hausen, this group isolated HPV 6 DNA from genital warts, suggesting a possible new way of identifying viruses in human tumors. This paid off several years later in 1983 when zur Hausen identified HPV 16 DNA in cervical cancer tumors by Southern blot hybridization [3]. This was followed by discovery of HPV18 a year later [4], thus identifying the culprits responsible for ~75% of human cervical cancer. This sparked a major scientific controversy with other scientists favoring herpes simplex as a cause for cervical cancer.

From 1983 until 2003 zur Hausen served as a chairman and member of the scientific advisory board of the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ in German) in Heidelberg and professor of medicine at the University of Heidelberg[1]. He also is editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cancer. He is author of the book Infections Causing Human Cancer from 2006.

Scientific merits

Zur Hausen's specific field of research is the study of oncoviruses. In 1976, he published the hypothesis that human papilloma virus plays an important role in the cause of cervical cancer. Together with his collaborators, he then identified HPV16 and HPV18 in cervical cancers in 1983-4. This research directly made possible the development of a vaccine which was introduced in 2006. See also HPV vaccine. He is also credited with discovery of the virus causing genital warts (HPV 6) and a monkey lymphotropic polyomavirus that is a close relative to a recently discovered human Merkel cell polyomavirus, as well as techniques to immortalize cells with Epstein-Barr virus and to induce replication of the virus using phorbol esters. His work on papillomaviruses and cervical cancer received a great deal of scientific criticism on initial unveiling but subsequently was confirmed and extended to other high-risk papillomaviruses.

He received the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2008 for his contributions to medical science.[2] He also shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, who discovered the human immunodeficiency virus.[3 ]


  • Infections Causing Human Cancer (2006) (Print ISBN 9783527310562; Online ISBN 9783527609314)



  1. ^ Nobel Laureates of the University of Heidelberg
  2. ^ ""Harald zur Hausen"". The Gairdner Foundation. Retrieved 2008-05-25.  
  3. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008". 2008-10-06. Retrieved 2008-10-06.   2008 Nobel Prize winner "for his discovery of human papilloma viruses causing cervical cancer"

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