The 2020 Nobel Prize for one of the most noble profession, that is medicine, has been awarded jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and causes Hepatitis C disease which affects the liver. According to WHO, “globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection and a significant number develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.”
In 2016, it was estimated that approximately 3,99,000 people died globally from hepatitis C.
Harvey J. Alter who was studying hepatitis in patients who had received blood transfusions found many unexplained infections. Tests for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B virus infection showed that they were not the cause. His team demonstrated that blood from these patients could transmit the disease to chimpanzees, and more studies showed that an unknown infectious agent was behind this. The mysterious new illness was termed “non-A, non-B” hepatitis.
This new virus could not be isolated for several years using the traditional techniques for virus isolation. Michael Houghton and his team created a collection of DNA fragments from the blood of an infected chimpanzee and thoroughly searched it. They found a novel RNA virus belonging to the Flavivirus family and named it the Hepatitis C virus.