Updated on 2 May 2015
Prof. Harald zur Hausen, winner, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2008
Singapore: It took decades of success, frustration and achievements for Prof. zur Hausen to identify the viruses that caused cervical cancer and subsequently the development of cervical cancer vaccines. The cervical cancer vaccine market is expected to grow from $1.8 billion in 2001 to $2.2 billion by 2018.
During his visit to Singapore to be a part of the Global Young Scientists Summit 2015, Prof. Harald zur Hausen spoke to BioSpectrum Asia about his journey in studies of epidemiology and the role of viruses in certain cancer development.
How did you end up studying viruses causing cervical cancer? Was it your area of interest or did you accidentally come across this significant research?
I have been working on viruses for 55 years now. I always desired to do medically inclined research during my student time and maintained the interest throughout the years. For 20 years, I was the scientific director of a German cancer research center and during that time, I used to do a lot of work on cancer development and also some of the technical developments in cancer.
I became aware of the fact that bacteria could be infected by bacterial viruses and they acquire new properties because of the uptake of some foreign materials. This triggered the idea that we might have some chronic diseases caused by viral infection. We might have similar trait or link in human occurring diseases. This was indeed the basis of my studying medicine and later starting to work on a question that extended to the contribution of infection to cause human cancer, particularly to malignant as well as non-malignant chronic diseases.
What was the basis of your research? Was it a hypothesis that cervical cancer is caused by virus or you concluded it in later years of research?