Three awarded Nobel prize in medicine for hepatitis C virus discovery

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Stockholm: Three scientists have shared the 2020 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

The Nobel was awarded jointly to Americans Harvey J. Alter and and Charles M. Rice and British scientist Michael Houghton in the Swedish capital on Monday.

Harvey J. Alter, far left, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology.Credit:AP

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 made possible blood tests and new medicines that have 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,” 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.”

Alter, a clinical scientist at a US 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 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, Missouri, researcher Rice characterised the virus and set scientists on a path through finding a cure.

The World Health Organisation estimates there are more than 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 medicine prize carries particular significance this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has highlighted the importance that medical research has for societies and economies around the world. It is unlikely, however, that the winners will have been directly involved in researching the new virus, as the prize usually goes to discoveries made many years or even decades ago.

Often the Nobel Assembly recognises basic science that has laid the foundations for practical applications in common use today.

It is common for several scientists who worked in the same field to share the prize. Last year, British scientist Peter Ratcliffe and Americans William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza received the award for discovering details of how the body’s cells sense and react to low oxygen levels.

The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (more than $A1.5 million), courtesy of a bequest left 124 years ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The amount was increased recently to adjust for inflation.

The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

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Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/three-awarded-nobel-prize-in-medicine-for-hepatitis-c-virus-discovery-20201005-p562ae.html

Hepatitis C virus, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Medicine, Michael Houghton, Harvey J. Alter, Charles M. Rice, Virus

Actu monde – AU – Three awarded Nobel prize in medicine for hepatitis C virus discovery

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