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Medicine Nobel Prize 2020

Key Highlights

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine is awarded to three scientists who have made a decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis

Blood-borne hepatitis is associated with significant morbidity and mortality, causing more than a million deaths per year worldwide

The discovery provided the final evidence showing that hepatitis C virus alone could cause hepatitis

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 head of the Nobel Committee, Thomas Perlmann, announced the winners in Stockholm.

The World Health Organization estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.

The prize in Medicine will be followed by the announcement of the Physics prize on Tuesday and Chemistry on Wednesday, AFP reported.

The announcements for the Literature and Peace prizes will happen on Thursday and Friday, while the Economics prize will be announced on 12 October, wrapping things up.

The Nobel award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1,118,000).

Who are these winners

Harvey James Alter

Born in 1935, Harvey J Alter is an American medical researcher who has gained worldwide recognition for his work related to discovering the Hepatitis C virus.

According to the Nobel Committee, the 85-year-old carried out his prize-winning studies at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where he remains active to date.

Charles Rice

Charle Rice was born in 1952 in Sacramento, California. He worked on hepatitis at the Washington University in St. Louis.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and was also the president of the American Society for Virology from 2002 to 2003.

Previous winners

2019 – Sir Peter Ratcliffe, William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza for discovered how cells sense and adapt to oxygen levels

2018 – James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo for discovering how to fight cancer using the body’s immune system

2017- Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for unravelling how bodies keep a circadian rhythm or body clock

2016 – Yoshinori Ohsumi for discovering how cells remain healthy by recycling waste

2015 – William C Campbell, Satoshi Ōmura and Youyou Tu for anti-parasite drug discoveries

2014 – John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser for discovering the brain’s navigating system

Why the discovery of Hepatitis C virus is significant

While the discovery of hepatitis viruses, including hepatitis A and B had been critical steps forward, the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.

The identification of the hepatitis C virus was significant as it revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis.

The discovery of the HCV also led to the development of diagnostic tests such as blood tests and new effective medicines, saving millions of lives.

According to the Nobel Committee, the methodical studies of transfusion-associated hepatitis by Harvey J Alter, at the US National Institutes of Health, demonstrated that an unknown virus was a common cause of chronic hepatitis.

Michael Houghton used an untested strategy to isolate the genome of the new virus that was named the hepatitis C virus.

Charles M Rice, a researcher at Washington University in St Louis, provided the final evidence showing that the hepatitis C virus alone could cause hepatitis.

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