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Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discoverers of the hepatitis C virus | scientists | Virus

The Nobel of Medicine this Monday distinguished three scientists for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus, a finding that has made possible the development of new blood tests and medicines to face a global health problem.

The Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and the British Michael Houghton were honored by the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute for their “decisive contribution” in the fight against transfusion hepatitis, which causes cirrhosis and liver cancer. which has saved “millions of lives”.

“For the first time in history, the disease can be cured, raising hopes of eradicating the hepatitis C virus from the world population,” said the ruling, which highlights that more than a million people still die each year from hepatitis transfusion, a global health concern comparable to tuberculosis or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Science concluded in the 1940s that there were two main types of liver infections: one transmitted by contaminated water or food (A) and another, much more threatening to health, which was transmitted by blood and body fluids.

Two decades later, Baruch Blumberg discovered that a form of this second class of hepatitis was caused by what was called the hepatitis B virus, a finding that allowed the development of tests and an effective vaccine and was also awarded the Nobel Prize. of Medicine in 1976.

An innovative strategy to identify the virus

At that time, Alter, then working in the American public health sector, realized that a significant number of people who received blood transfusions also developed hepatitis due to an unknown infectious agent.

He then showed that the blood of these patients could transmit the disease to chimpanzees and that this agent had the characteristics of a virus.

After a decade of unsuccessful efforts to try to isolate the virus, Michael Houghton resorted to an innovative strategy, creating a collection of nucleic acid DNA fragments found in the blood of an infected chimpanzee, from which the virus could be identified. virus.

It remained to be determined whether the virus could cause the disease itself, a task carried out by Rice, who, thanks to genetic engineering, was able to generate a variant of the virus RNA later successfully inoculated in chimpanzees.

Alter (New York, 1935) practiced for years at Georgetown University, until in 1969 he returned to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to join the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the Clinical Center, where he was head of Clinical Studies and director Research associate.

British Michael Houghton received his doctorate from King’s College London and went to practice in California in 1982 and from there to Canada, where he has continued practically his entire career, heading the department of Virology at the University of Alberta.

Rice, born 1952 in Sacramento (United States), has been practicing since 2001 at the Rockefeller University Center for Hepatitis C Studies.

Alter, Houghton and Rice succeed William Kaelin, Gregg Semenza and Peter Ratcliffe, winners last year for revealing the relationship of cells to oxygen.

The three will share the 10 million Swedish crowns ($ 1.1 million) with which the Nobel are endowed this year.

With the three winners of today, the list of winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology amounts to 113, of which only 12 are women.

The round of Nobel winners, which this year are announced with restrictions by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the new coronavirus, will continue tomorrow with the Physics award, which will be followed, in this order, by the Chemistry, Literature, Peace and Economy awards in the next few days.

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