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, 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.
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.