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The Nobel Prize in Medicine goes to the trio that discovered hepatitis C

Earlier today, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three scientists, Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice, who discovered the hepatitis C virus. The Hepatitis C virus was first discovered in 1989 and had previously been called non-A, non-B hepatitis.



a hand holding a coin: For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.


© Provided by Popular Science
For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.

Globally, an estimated 71 million people currently are infected with hepatitis C, which causes liver disease. In 2016, nearly 400,000 people died from cirrhosis and liver cancer as a result of the virus.

The first form of hepatitis, now called hepatitis A, was discovered in the 1940s, and was spread by contaminated food and water. By the 1960′s, researchers discovered another form, hepatitis B, a blood-borne liver infection. However, some patients undergoing blood transfusions were still mysteriously falling ill, thanks to a then-unknown pathogen we now know as hepatitis C, making a transfusion during this time a bit like “Russian roulette,” according to the Guardian.

Nobel-winner Alter, now at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, made the first giant leap towards uncovering hepatitis C back in the 1970′s when he isolated a third blood-borne pathogen in addition to hepatitis A and B that could transmit the disease to chimpanzees, the only other susceptible host besides humans, according to the Nobel Institute.

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Next, Houghton, who was then working for a pharmaceutical firm named Chiron, collected DNA and RNA from infected chimpanzees to try and identify the mysterious virus. Houghton and his team then put the collection of DNA into bacteria to see if any of the bacterial colonies could recreate a protein typically only created by the mysterious virus, which would lead them to the culprit causing the disease. Only one out of a million colonies were able to code the protein for the virus, and the researchers were able to show that the virus belonged to the Flavivirus family, and it was named hepatitis C. Blood tests were developed, largely knocking out any chance of the virus spreading through blood transmissions, according to Science Magazine.



a hand holding a coin: For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.


© Adam Baker
For many years, not knowing what hepatitis C was made blood transfusions incredibly risky.

Rice, then a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, took the final step in proving that the virus alone could cause the chronic disease seen in humans by testing out genetic variants in chimpanzee livers, according to the Nobel Committee.

Now, antiviral treatments for hepatitis C can cure nearly 95 percent of infected patients. But as of five years ago, there were 23.7 new hepatitis C infections per 100,000 people according to the WHO. Activities such as injected drug use, using unsterilized medical equipment, and sexual practices that can expose a partner to blood are still common transmission avenues.

Scientists hope that this prize will bring momentum to research that’ll help rid the world of

A US-British trio wins the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus [Video]

SHOTLIST

STOCKHOLM, SWEDENOCTOBER 5, 2020SOURCE: AFPTV

1. SOUNDBITE 1 – Thomas Perlmann , Nobel Assembly secretary (male, English, 22 sec): “The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for the discover of Hepatitis C virus. “

SOLNA, SWEDEN STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN OCTOBER 5, 2020 SOURCE: AFPTV

2. Cutaway: Secretary General of the Nobel Committee Thomas Perlmann making the announcement with photos of the laureates on the screen

BETHESDA, MARYLAND, UNITED STATESOCTOBER 5, 2020SOURCE: NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTHRESTRICTIONS: NO RESALEEDITORIAL USE ONLY

3. SOUNDBITE 2 – Dr. Harvey Alter, Nobel Laureate in Medicine (male, english, 16 sec): “A vaccine is still a goal, but it’s been very difficult to do – just like for HIV, it’s a highly mutable virus, and it’s very difficult to develop an effective immune response for a vaccine, but we’re still hopeful.”

UNDEFINEDOCTOBER 5, 2020SOURCE: HANDOUT / ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITYRESTRICTIONS: NO RESALE

4. SOUNDBITE 3 – Charles Rice, virologist at the Rockefeller University and co-winner of the 2020 Nobel Medicine Prize (male, English, 23 sec): “The success of these drug treatments for hepatitis C and the fact that you can actually eliminate the virus, you can actually cure people, you can get rid of it, I think has renewed enthusiasm in people to see if we couldn’t achieve that for other chronic viral infections like hepatitis B and HIV.”

///———————————————————–AFP TEXT STORY:

newseriesUS-British trio win Nobel Medicine Prize for Hepatitis C discovery By Pia OHLIN

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ATTENTION – ADDS Rice reax, laureates working on Covid-19 vaccine ///Stockholm, Oct 5, 2020 (AFP) – Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, paving the way for a cure, the Nobel jury said.The three were honoured for their “decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world,” the jury said.The World Health Organization estimates there are around 70 million Hepatitis C infections globally, causing around 400,000 deaths each year. It is characterized by poor appetite, vomiting, fatigue and jaundice.Thanks to the trio’s discoveries, 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 Nobel committee said.Their discoveries allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at Hepatitis C. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the jury said.Alter, 85, told the Nobel Foundation he was “in shock” after receiving an early-morning call from the committee, saying he didn’t answer the first two times.”The third time I got up angrily to answer it… and it was Stockholm,” he said.”To see so many people get cured, and nobody getting post-transfusion hepatitis, that’s astounding

Nobel prize in medicine awarded to US-UK trio for work on hepatitis C

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Two Americans and a British scientist have won the 2020 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for their groundbreaking work on blood-borne hepatitis, a health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer around the world.



a man standing in front of a flat screen television: Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Harvey J Alter at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Charles M Rice from Rockefeller University in New York, and Michael Houghton, a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, were honoured for their joint discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major cause of liver disease.

The award, announced on Monday by the Nobel assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000), which will be shared among the winners.

“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 Nobel committee said.

Speaking of how he heard the news, Alter said he ignored the phone twice when it rang before 5am local time. “The third time I got up angrily to answer it and it was Stockholm. It’s a weird experience,” he said. “It’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had.” Rice said he was “absolutely stunned” on receiving the call, adding “it is a success story for team science.”



a man standing in front of a flat screen television: Nobel committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners, (from left) Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday.


© Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images
Nobel committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners, (from left) Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday.

The prize may prove controversial. In 2013, Houghton refused a major award for his hepatitis C work because it excluded two former co-workers, George Quo and Qui-Lim Choo who helped him identify the virus. Houghton, who received his PhD from King’s College London in 1977, said his colleagues did not get the recognition they deserved.

David Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Clarivate, a scientific data firm, said he was surprised the Nobel committee had made the award. “There’s no question about the importance of this work and the worthiness of this prize, but one assumes the Nobel committee tries to avoid controversy where possible,” he said. The award threw into high relief the perennial issue of the Nobel’s rule of three, he added, where no more than three researchers can be named for discoveries that have often been team efforts.

Houghton accepted the Nobel but said he hoped future award committees would recognise larger groups of scientists. “Great science, often, is a group of people and I think going forward we somehow need to acknowledge that,” he said.

The scientists’ work transformed the understanding and treatment of hepatitis C, a virus that infects more than 70 million people, and kills 400,000 a year, according to the World Health Organization.

In the 1940s, doctors knew there were two

Nobel prize in medicine awarded to US-UK trio for work on hepatitis C | Science

Two Americans and a British scientist have been awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for their groundbreaking work on blood-borne hepatitis, a health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer around the world.

Harvey J Alter at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Charles M Rice from Rockefeller University in New York, and Michael Houghton, a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, were honoured for their joint discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a major cause of liver disease.

The award may prove controversial as Houghton recently turned down a major prize because it excluded two co-workers at the pharmaceutical firm Chiron who helped him identify the virus. In 2013, he refused the Canada Gairdner international award sometimes known as the “baby Nobel” because it did not recognise the work of his former colleagues George Quo and Qui-Lim Choo.

After reluctantly accepting the prestigious Lasker award in 2000, Houghton, who received his PhD from King’s College London in 1977, said his co-workers did not get the recognition they deserved and decided “I really shouldn’t do this any more.”

David Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Clarivate, a scientific data firm, said he was surprised the Nobel committee made the award knowing it would be problematic. “There’s no question about the importance of this work and the worthiness of this prize, but one assumes the Nobel committee tries to avoid controversy where possible,” he said.

The difficulty, he said, threw into high relief the perennial issue of the Nobel’s rule of three, where no more than three researchers can be named for discoveries that have often been team efforts.

The award, announced on Monday by the Nobel assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is worth 10m Swedish kronor (£870,000), to be shared among the winners.

At a press briefing after the announcement, Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel committee, told reporters he had told Alter and Rice the news by telephone but had not reached Houghton. Alter said he ignored the phone twice when it rang before 5am local time. “The third time I got up angrily to answer it and it was Stockholm. It’s a weird experience,” he said. “It’s the best alarm clock I’ve ever had.”

The scientists’ work transformed the understanding and treatment of hepatitis C. The virus infects more than 70 million people, with 400,000 dying each year from related conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

In the 1940s, doctors knew there were two main types of infectious hepatitis. The first, transmitted by the hepatitis A virus, spread via contaminated food and water and tended to have little long-term impact on people. The second, spread by blood and body fluids, was more insidious. Patients could be silently infected for years before serious complications emerged – liver cancer and liver scarring known as cirrhosis.

Researchers discovered hepatitis B in the 1960s, but it quickly became clear that it was not the only cause of the

Virus-hunting trio wins Nobel for Hepatitis C discovery

Nobel Committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, (L-R) American Harvey Alter, Briton Michael Houghton and American Charles Rice, during a press conference at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 5, 2020.

Jonathan Nackstrand | AFP | Getty Images

Two Americans and a Briton won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Medicine on Monday for identifying the Hepatitis C virus, in work spanning decades that has helped to limit the spread of the fatal disease and develop antiviral drugs to cure it.

The discoveries by scientists Harvey Alter, Charles Rice and Briton Michael Houghton meant there was now a chance of eradicating the Hepatitis C virus, which causes cirrhosis and liver cancer, the award-giving body said.

The three share the 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) award for discovering and proving that a blood-borne virus could cause Hepatitis C, which afflicts 78 million people every year and causes 400,000 deaths.

“Before the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus it was a bit like Russian roulette to get a blood transfusion,” Nobel Committee member Nils-Goran Larsson said of the award.

“It has benefited millions of people that now can have a safe blood transfusion and safe blood products.”

Nominations for this year’s award preceded the global spread of the new coronavirus pandemic, but the choice of winners recognizes the importance of identifying a virus as the first step in winning the battle against a new disease, said Thomas Perlmann, secretary general of the Nobel Assembly.

Perlmann said he had managed to reach Alter and Rice early in their day in the United States. “They were really surprised, happy and speechless,” he told reporters.

It’s the second Nobel Prize for Medicine to be awarded for hepatitis research after Baruch Blumberg won in 1976 for determining that one form of blood-borne hepatitis was caused by a virus that came to be known as Hepatitis B. Hepatitis A, which is easily treated, is transmitted by contaminated water or food.

Three steps

The shared prize recognizes research dating back to the 1960s when Alter, who was working at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that liver disease could be spread by blood transfusions that weren’t caused by Hepatitis A or B.

It was a team led by Houghton, then working for pharmaceuticals firm Chiron, who was able in the mid-1980s to create a clone of a new virus from fragments found in the blood of an infected chimpanzee.

This virus, belonging to the Flavivirus family, was named Hepatitis C. Its identification made it possible to develop tests to screen blood bank supplies and greatly reduce the spread of the disease.

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle came when Rice, then at Washington University in St Louis, was able to use genetic engineering to generate a version of the Hepatitis C virus and demonstrate that it alone could cause symptoms in a chimpanzee comparable to an infection

Nobel Prize for medicine awarded to trio who discovered Hepatitis C virus

The Nobel Committee announced Monday that three scientists will split the 2020 Nobel Price for Physiology or Medicine for their joint discovery of the virus that causes Hepatitis C, a blood-borne illness that damages the liver. The three scientists — Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice plus Michael Houghton of Britain — built on the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses, the Nobel Committee said, and their “discovery of Hepatitis C virus revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.”

The discovery of the Hepatitis C virus allowed for sensitive tests that have “essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” and “also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at Hepatitis C,” the committee explained. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

Alter, Rice, and Houghton will split the $1.1 million award. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s laureates will be awarded their prizes in televised ceremonies in their home countries, then invited to celebrate at the traditional banquet in Stockholm alongside the 2021 laureates, assuming the pandemic is sufficiently contained.

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Nobel prize in medicine awarded to trio for work on hepatitis C

Two Americans and a British scientist have been awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for their groundbreaking work on blood-borne hepatitis, a health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer around the world.



a man standing in front of a flat screen television: Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Harvey J Alter at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Charles M Rice from Rockefeller University in New York, and Michael Houghton, a British virologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, discovered the hepatitis C virus, a major cause of liver inflammation.

The three researchers share the 10m Swedish kronor award (£870,000) that was announced on Monday by the Nobel assembly from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Thomas Perlmann, the secretary of the Nobel committee, described the hepatitis C virus as a “plague” that affected millions. At a press briefing, he told reporters he had told Alter and Rice the news by telephone. “I woke them up and they were very surprised,” he said. He did not immediately reach Houghton.



a man standing in front of a flat screen television: Nobel committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners, (from left) Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday.


© Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images
Nobel committee member Patrik Ernfors sits in front of a screen displaying the winners, (from left) Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles Rice, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 70 million people are infected with hepatitis C, with 400,000 dying each year from related conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The physics prize will be announced on Tuesday and the prize for chemistry on Wednesday, both from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

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US-British trio win Nobel Medicine Prize for Hepatitis C discovery

Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice together with Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, the Nobel jury said.

The three were honoured for their “decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world,” the jury 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 Nobel committee said.

Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C. 

“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population,” the jury said.

The award for work on a virus comes as the world battles the new coronavirus pandemic.

The trio will share the Nobel prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros).

They would normally receive their prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will and testament.

But the in-person ceremony has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, replaced with a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.

Last year, the honour went to US researchers William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza and Britain’s Peter Ratcliffe on for discoveries on how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.

The winners of this year’s physics prize will be revealed on Tuesday, followed by the chemistry Prize on Wednesday. 

The literature prize will be announced on Thursday and the peace prize on Friday, with speculation that Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and other climate activists or press freedom groups could get the nod for the latter.

The economics prize will wrap up the Nobel prize season on Monday, October 12.

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