The Americans Harvey Alter and Charles Rice, together with the British Michael Houghton, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine on Monday for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus, announced the Nobel jury.
The three were honored for their “crucial 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 that there are around 70 million hepatitis C infections worldwide, causing around 400,000 deaths each year.
Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available which “have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world and greatly improved global health,” the Nobel Committee said.
Their discovery also enabled the rapid development of antiviral drugs for hepatitis C.
“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, which raises hopes of eradicating the hepatitis C virus from the world‘s population,” said the jury.
Prior to the work of the trio, the discovery of the hepatitis A and B viruses had made significant strides, but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.
“The discovery of the hepatitis C virus uncovered the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and enabled blood tests and new drugs that have saved millions of lives,” said the jury.
Alter was recognized for his pioneering work investigating the incidence of hepatitis in patients who had received blood transfusions, finding that their disease was neither hepatitis A nor B.
Houghton built on Alter’s work to isolate the genetic sequence of the new virus.
Rice completed the puzzle by using genetic engineering to prove that it was only the new strain – hepatitis C – that was making patients sick.
The trio shares the Nobel Prize sum of 10 million Swedish kronor (approx. 1.1 million US dollars, 950,000 euros).
Usually they received their award from King Carl XVI. Gustaf at a solemn ceremony in Stockholm on December 10th, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the scientist Alfred Nobel who created the prizes in his last will.
However, this year the in-person ceremony has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and has been replaced with a television ceremony where the award winners receive their awards in their home countries.
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The prize for working on a virus comes as the world battles the new coronavirus pandemic that has put science and research at the center of attention worldwide.
“The pandemic is a big crisis for humanity, but it shows how important science is,” said Lars Heikensten, head of the Nobel Foundation.
However, it was not expected that prizes would be awarded this year for work directly related to the new coronavirus, as research on Nobel Prize winning research typically takes many years to review.
The award committees are “in no way influenced by current developments in the world,” Erling Norrby, former permanent secretary of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, which awards the science awards, told AFP.
“It takes some time to pay. I would say at least 10 years before you can fully understand the implications of a discovery,” said Norrby, a virologist himself.
The work of the various award committees is secret and the names of the nominees have not been disclosed for 50 years, leading to fierce speculation.
The winners of this year’s physics award will be announced on Tuesday. The astrophysicists Shep Doeleman from the USA and the German Heino Falcke are considered possible winners for work that led to the first directly observed image of a black hole in April 2019.
The American mathematician Peter Shor, who paved the way for today’s research on quantum computers, or the French Alain aspect for his work on quantum entanglement have also been mentioned in Swedish media.
The chemistry award will be announced on Wednesday, followed by the literature award on Thursday.
The speculation ahead of the peace prize on Friday has now centered on freedom of the press groups, the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and other climate activists or several UN organizations.
The business award closes the Nobel Prize season on Monday, October 12th.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)