World News – GB – Virologists who discovered hepatitis C win Nobel Prize in medicine


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Harvey Alter, Charles Rice and Michael Houghton (left to right) won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their research into the hepatitis C virus Credit: NIH History Office, John Abbott / The Rockefeller University, Lasker Foundation

A trio of scientists who have identified and characterized the virus responsible for numerous cases of hepatitis and liver disease – hepatitis C – is winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The winners are Harvey Alter from the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland; Michael Houghton, now at the University of Alberta in Canada, and Charles Rice, now at Rockefeller University in New York Their work on the hepatitis C virus paved the way for effective treatments for the infection that are now available

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 71 million people worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis C, which causes nearly 400,000 deaths per year, mainly from cirrhosis and liver cancer

The award is well deserved, says Ellie Barnes, who studies liver medicine and immunology at the University of Oxford, UK « It stands out as an emblem of great science, » she said « We have come to a point where we can cure most of the infected »

In the 1970s, Alter studied the transmission of hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, following blood transfusions.Previous work had identified hepatitis A and B viruses, but Alter showed that a third blood-borne viral pathogen could transmit the disease to chimpanzees

Houghton, then at Chiron Corporation in Emeryville, Calif., and his colleagues identified the virus based on genetic material from infected chimpanzees, showing it to be a new type of RNA virus belonging to the Flavivirus family They called it hepatitis C virus

A team led by Rice, then based at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, used genetic engineering techniques to characterize part of the hepatitis C genome responsible for viral replication, demonstrating its role in liver disease

Over the past decade, harsh and ineffective treatments for the infection have been replaced by drugs that directly block the virus.These drugs have the potential to cure the vast majority of hepatitis C infections, but their high cost has limited access in many low- and middle-income countries

Treatment requires a drug regimen for 8 to 12 weeks, says Barnes “Many people with hepatitis C stay in vulnerable settings or are addicted to drugs, where it is actually quite difficult to get drugs. to the persons concerned « 

The WHO has set a goal of eradicating the hepatitis C virus by 2030, which Barnes says may be achievable.But doing that, she adds, may require -be a vaccine

Progress in the development of such a vaccine has been slow, in part due to the low investment in effort and the cunning nature of the virus itself The genetics of each strain of hepatitis C virus differs radically: Barnes estimates that hepatitis C is ten times more diverse than HIV, and « infinitely » more than the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 And it is difficult to conduct clinical trials in populations most vulnerable to hepatitis C virus

None of these problems are insurmountable, adds Barnes « The virus was discovered 30 years ago and we still don’t have a vaccine, » she says « We still have people infected and dying from it. ‘hepatitis C From this point of view, the story is not over « 

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ISSN 1476-4687 (online)

Hepatitis C virus, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Medicine, Michael Houghton, Harvey J Alter, Charles M Rice, Virus

News from the world – GB – Virologists who discovered hepatitis C win the Nobel Prize in medicine



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