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Nobel Prize in medicine awarded for discovery of hepatitis C

Nobel Prize in medicine awarded for discovery of hepatitis C

MONDAY, October 05, 2020

The 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded Monday to researchers from the U.S. and U.K. whose discoveries made a major contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Harvey J. Alter, a clinical scientist at a U.S. National Institutes of Health blood bank, showed that the chronic form of hepatitis known as hepatitis C disease was blood-borne and was likely caused by a virus. Years later, British-born virologist Michael Houghton - then working for the pharmaceutical company Chiron - found a way to clone the virus and identified antibodies created against it by the host's immune system; this led to the development of screening mechanisms to eliminate the virus in the blood supply. Through genetic analysis, Washington University in St. Louis researcher Charles M. Rice characterized the virus and set scientists on a path through finding a cure.

Hepatitis C, which is often transmitted through blood transfusions, causes severe inflammation of the liver and is blamed for 400,000 deaths annually.

The Nobel Committee called the three researchers' work "a landmark achievement in our battle against viral infections."

"It's hard to find something that is of such benefit to mankind as what we are awarding this year," said Thomas Perlman, secretary of the Nobel Committee. "This discovery . . . has led to improvements for millions of people around the world."