Harvey J Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M Rice gets the Nobel Prize for medicine for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world. Announcing the prize in Stockholm, the Nobel Committee said that the discovery of Hepatitis C virus was a landmark achievement in the ongoing battle against viral diseases.
“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. 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 committee said.
Harvey J. Alter
Born in 1935 in New York, Harvey J Alter received his medical degree at the University of Rochester Medical School and trained in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital and at the University Hospitals of Seattle. In 1961, he joined the National Institutes of Health as a clinical associate. He spent several years in Georgetown University and then returned to National Institutes of Health in 1969 to join the Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine as a senior investigator. He then became Chief of the Clinical Studies and Associate Director of Research in the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the NIH Clinical Center. As a young research fellow in 1964, he co-discovered the Australia antigen, a key to detecting hepatitis B virus. In the mid-1970s, Alter and his team demonstrated that most post-transfusion hepatitis cases were not due to hepatitis A and B viruses. Later, Alter and Edward Tabor, a scientist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, brought to light through transmission studies in chimpanzees that a new form of hepatitis, initially called “non-A, non-B hepatitis” caused the infections and that the causative agent was probably a virus. This work eventually led to the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus in 1988, for which he shared the Nobel with the other two.
Alter was awarded the Clinical Lasker Award in 2000. He became the first Clinical Center scientist elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2002. The same year he was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Only a small number of scientists nationally are elected to both of these scientific societies. Dr. Alter was honored in 2013 with the distinguished Canada Gairdner International Award for his critical contribution to the discovery and isolation of the hepatitis C virus.
A British scientist, he was born in the 1950s. At the age of 17 Houghton was inspired to become a microbiologist after reading about Louis Pasteur. Houghton graduated from the University of East Anglia with a degree in biological sciences in 1972 and subsequently received his PhD degree in 1977 from King’s College London. He joined G D Searle and Company before moving to Chiron Corporation, Emeryville, California in 1982. He shifted to University of Alberta in 2010 and is at present a Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology and the Li Ka Shing Professor of Virology at the University of Alberta.
Houghton is co-author of a series of seminal studies published in 1989 and 1990 that identified hepatitis C antibodies in blood, particularly among patients at higher risk of contracting the disease, including those who underwent blood transfusions. Houghton’s team at the University of Alberta In 2013 showed that a vaccine derived from a single strain of Hepatitis C was effective against all strains of the virus. Houghton holds 73 U.S. patents related to his research.
Charles I Rice
Born in 1952 in Sacramento, Rice is an American virologist and his main area of research is Hepatitis C for which he was awarded the Nobel prize along with two others. He is a professor of virology at the Rockefeller University. Rice graduated with a BS in zoology from University of California in 1974. He received his PhD degree in 1981 from the California Institute of Technology where he also trained as a postdoctoral fellow between 1981 and 1985. He established his research group at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis in 1986 and became full Professor in 1995. Since 2001 he has been Professor at the Rockefeller University. During 2001-2018 he was the Scientific and Executive Director, Center for the Study of Hepatitis C at Rockefeller University where he remains active
Rice is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. member is the National Academy of Sciences and was president of the American Society for Virology from 2002 to 2003. He received the 2016 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award,