In recent years, the Nobel Prize for medicine has gone to eminent scientists recognised for important but, to the layman, arcane discoveries related to cell functioning and mouse genetics. Not this year. Everyone knows the devastation wreaked by Aids and the deadly potential of cervical cancer. The two French researchers who discovered the HIV virus, and the German scientist who identified the human papilloma virus (HPV) as the cause of cervical cancer, are certain to be popular recipients of the award.
Their work has saved millions of lives. But the outcome of the two discoveries has been very different. While both were made in the 1980s, and we now have a vaccine against HPV (to be rolled out in the UK this year), we are as far away as ever from a vaccine against HIV. Françoise Barre-Sinoussi admitted yesterday she and Luc Montagnier had been "naive" to think it would happen quickly. A future Nobel awaits the scientist who can crack that conundrum.