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3 scientists get Nobel Prize for discovery of Hepatitis C virus

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The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet on Monday decided to award the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to Harvey J Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M Rice for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Announcing the prize in Stockholm on Monday, the Nobel Committee noted that the trio’s work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses.

Their work makes possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives, the committee said in a press release.

The prestigious Nobel award comes with a gold medal and Prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over USD 1,118,000), courtesy of a bequest left 124 years ago by the Prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.

The award is the first of six prizes being announced through October 12. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

What did Nobel Prize committee say?

“This year’s Nobel Prize is awarded to three scientists who have made a decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world,” the committee said.

“The 2020 Nobel Prize laureates Harvey J Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M Rice made seminal discoveries that led to the identification of a novel virus, hepatitis C,” it said.

“Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” the committee said.

“Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at Hepatitis C,” it added. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

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The World Health Organisation estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.

The Nobel Committee often recognizes basic science that has laid the foundations for practical applications in common use today.

Meet the Nobel laureates

Harvey J Alter

Harvey J. Alter was born in 1935 in New York. He received his medical degree at the University of Rochester Medical School, and trained in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital and at the University Hospitals of Seattle. In 1961, he joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a clinical associate. He spent several years at Georgetown University before returning to NIH in 1969 to join the Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine as a senior investigator.

Michael Houghton

Michael Houghton was born in the United Kingdom. He received his PhD degree in 1977 from King’s College London. He joined G. D. Searle & Company before moving to Chiron Corporation, Emeryville, California in 1982. He relocated to the University of Alberta in 2010 and is currently a Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology and the Li Ka Shing Professor of Virology at the University of Alberta where he is also Director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute.

Charles M Rice

Charles M Rice was born in 1952 in Sacramento. He received his PhD degree in 1981 from the California Institute of Technology where he also trained as a postdoctoral fellow between 1981 and1985. He established his research group at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis in 1986 and became full Professor in 1995. Since 2001 he has been Professor at the Rockefeller University, New York. During 2001-2018, he was the Scientific and Executive Director, Center for the Study of Hepatitis C at Rockefeller University where he remains active.

 

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