The 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to three scientists for their work in discovering the Hepatitis C virus.
The scientists who receive the award jointly are Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles Rice.
What is the Hepatitis C virus?
In the 1960s, it was found that many unexplained cases were suffering from a virus other than Hepatitis A and B. This Hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood, via shared syringes, infected blood transfusions, and even via some sexual practices. The infection spreads quickly through the body, and many cases have been found asymptotic.
It becomes riskier as it damages the lever’s function slowly over time, ultimately leading to cancer. Many patients require liver transplants, and some even die.
The work by Alter, Houghton, and Rice has led to accurate blood test screening for Hepatitis C. This will help in the early diagnosis of the virus in the body and can save millions of lives worldwide.
Who are the three awardees?
In the 1970s, Harvey Alter, 85, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, and his team hinted at the existence of a virus other than Hepatitis A and B.
Later, in the 1980s, Michael Houghton, 69, worked on hepatitis at the Chiron Corp. in California with two associates Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo. He isolated the virus’s genetic sequence and formally named the Hepatitis C virus. He now is the Li Ka Shing professor of virology at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Further, Charles Rice, 68, professor at Rockefeller University, researched chimpanzees that added crucial details and sealed the research. He developed lab tools and methods that isolated the virus.
Alter, Houghton, and Rice’s research and years of work have led to the development of many life-saving treatments. Many of these are in regular use today. According to WHO, over 71 million people are affected by Hepatitis C worldwide, with over 400,000 deaths every year. The worst-hit areas are India, Eastern Europe, Egypt, and parts of Asia.
The drug, when it came out a decade ago, cost around $40,000. It has become a quarter of it now. However, the work is still on. Researchers worldwide, including Dr. Houghton, are working to develop a vaccine for Hepatitis C.
“For the first time in history, the disease can finally be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the Nobel Committee said in a statement. The committee announced the prize at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
For the first time in history, the Hepatitis C virus can now be cured. The 2020 Medicine Laureates’ discoveries revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.#NobelPrize pic.twitter.com/hqJK1uWX3u
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) October 5, 2020
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