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Trio Wins Nobel Medicine Prize For Hepatitis C Discovery

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on Monday, Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice and Briton Michael Houghton won the Nobel Medicine Award to discovery the Hepatitis C virus, the Nobel jury said.

They were honored 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 to be around 70 million Hepatitis C infections globally, causing approximately 400,000 deaths each year.

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.

Before the trio’s work, the Hepatitis A and B viruses’ discovery had seen critical steps forward, but most blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.

“The 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 jury said.

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Alter was credited for his pioneering work studying the occurrence of hepatitis in patients who had received blood transfusions, determining that their illness was neither Hepatitis A nor B.

Houghton built on Alter’s work to isolate the genetic sequence of the new virus.

Rice subsequently completed the puzzle using genetic engineering to prove that it was a new strain alone — Hepatitis C — that was causing patients to get sick.

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

They would typically 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. He created the awards in his testament.

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

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