Scientist trio honored with Nobel Prize in medicine for discovery of hepatitis C virus


Three virologists have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their key contribution to prevent blood-borne hepatitis, which poses a “global health problem,” according to the Nobel Committee. 

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to American-British based scientists, Dr. Harvey J.Alter, Charles M. Rice, and Michael Houghton. The Nobel Committee announced the prize on Monday, October 5th, 2020, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The discovery of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) paved the way to develop antiviral drugs for its elimination on a global scale. 

Hepatitis C viruses are blood-borne pathogens that mainly occur through blood transfusions or contaminated medical instruments, like needles, that silently cause liver inflammations. The hepatitis C virus was associated with blood transfusions, but because the virus was not yet identified, it was known as non-A or non-B hepatitis. In the 1960s, an American scientist Baruch Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus and later found out that this was not the only case of such viral infections. Houghton and his colleagues successfully cloned the hepatitis C virus in 1989 and found that there were unexplainable cases of hepatitis while performing blood tests. They later found out that a new type of RNA virus was responsible for hepatitis C. Rice and his team at Washington University at St. Louis showed the role of hepatitis C virus replication and its cause in liver diseases. 

According to the World Health Organization, hepatitis C is a major cause of liver cancer or cirrhosis and about seventy-one million people worldwide have chronic cases of the hepatitis C virus infection. Additionally, nearly 400,000 people die every year due to chronic hepatitis C infection. Now, with the discovery of the HCV, highly sensitive blood tests and antiviral tests will be available. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population..,” the Nobel Committee commented. 



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