McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Nobel Prize winner speaks at McMaster

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: October 17, 2008
Harald zur Hausen
Dr. Harald zur Hausen

The German scientist who won this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine for research into cervical cancer will deliver the prestigious 2008 Gairdner Lecture at McMaster University on Tuesday, October 21.

Dr. Harald zur Hausen’s research helped link human papillomaviruses (HPV) to cervical cancer, the key to eventually developing a vaccine to prevent the disease.

Worldwide, more than 500,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and more than 230,000 women die as a result.  It is estimated that 1,300 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in Canada in 2008. Approximately 400 Canadian women die from the disease every year.

Dr. zur Hausen is professor emeritus and recent chairman and scientific director of the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Germany. In addition to the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine, he is the recipient of the 2008 Gairdner Foundation International Award, founded 49 years ago by the late Toronto businessman, James Gairdner.

The awards are now one of the most prestigious international awards for breakthrough discoveries that either halt disease or relieve suffering.  Today, more than 73 Gairdner Laureates are also Nobel Prize winners.

Dr. zur Hausen will speak on "Infections as cancer risk factors" at 12 noon in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery, Room 1105.

Dr. zur Hausen’s research was fundamental to the development of Gardasil, a vaccine which has proven effective in preventing the disease.  The vaccine was approved in Canada in 2006 for girls and women between nine and 26 years of age.  The federal government announced in its March, 2007 budget that $300 million would be available to provinces and territories over three years for vaccinations.

The decision has been met with a storm of controversy across Canada with some Catholic school boards in Alberta and Ontario, in particular, refusing to allow the vaccinations to be given on school property.

In an interview with Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, immediately after he received the Nobel Prize, Dr. zur Hausen said he supports giving vaccinations to girls as young as nine.  He also said that young men should be given the vaccine, since they can transmit the virus.

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