three get Nobel Prize for Hep-C virus discovery

Stockholm, October 5

Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice and British-born scientist Michael Houghton won the Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday for their discovery of the Hepatitis-C virus, a major source of liver disease that affects millions worldwide.

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

Medical milestone

  • Harvey J Alter discovered that plasma from patients who didn’t have Hepatitis-B could also transfer the disease
  • The breakthrough came in 1989, when Michael Houghton used a combination of molecular biology and immunology-based techniques to clone the virus
  • Nobel winner Charles M Rice confirmed that a cloned Hepatitis virus alone could cause persistent infection in chimpanzees and reproduce the disease observed in humans

Their work, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, has helped saved millions of lives, the committee 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. The disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating the Hepatitis-C virus from the world population,” it said. — AP

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