Three scientists have won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discovering the Hepatitis C virus.
Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and British-born scientist Michael Houghton were honoured for their work in the battle against a disease blamed for 400,000 deaths annually.
The virus is a common cause of liver cancer and a major reason why people need a liver transplant. The Nobel Committee called the three researchers’ work “a landmark achievement in our battle against viral infections.”
“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.
“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population.”
Their research helped almost eliminate the risk of getting hepatitis C through blood transfusions and led to the development of antiviral medications that can completely clear the virus from the bodies of infected patients.
“One of the greatest thrills for me has been having identified the first patient [with hepatitis C] and now seeing that not only he was cured, but everyone else I’ve followed over the years was cured,” scientist Harvey Alter told reporters on Monday. “I could not have imagined this, not in my lifetime.”
“What I did and my colleagues in the lab did, I’m very proud of,” Charles Rice said. “But really, we’re just one part of a cast of thousands that are working together and are responsible for where we are today.”
The medicine prize carried particular significance this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has highlighted the importance that medical research has for societies and economies around the world.
Monday’s award is the first of six prizes this year being announced through October 12th. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.
By Rita Osakwe