Two American and one British Researcher has been awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize of 2020 in Medicine/Physiology for their discovery of the Hepatitis C virus or HCV. This virus is responsible for causing the liver disease which has infected more than 170 million people worldwide. Out of these people, 71 million people are suffering from a chronic version of this disease.
US researchers, Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice, and the British-born researcher Michael Houghton were awarded 2020’s Nobel Prize in Stockholm after the Nobel Committee looked upon their work on understanding this highly prevalent liver disease. This type of liver infection was different from other infections caused by already known strains of hepatitis that are Hep A and Hep B viruses. They started their work decades ago and this discovery has proved a real help to save the lives of millions of people.
Hepatitis is characterized by the inflammation of the liver. The term ‘hepatitis’ came from the Greek language that literally means ‘liver’ and ‘inflammation’. This inflammation is caused by different viruses and the risk of infection is highest with those exposed to alcohol abuse, autoimmune diseases, and various types of environmental toxins.
The pathogens responsible for hepatitis were first identified in 1940 as Hepatitis A virus and Hepatitis B virus. Hep-A virus is usually spread through contaminated food and water sources and has negligible long-term effects. The hep-B virus spreads through bodily fluids including blood and semen and induces a severe infection which can result in liver cirrhosis and even cancer.
In 1967, Baruch Blumberg identified the Hepatitis B virus and was able to win a Nobel Prize in MedicinePhysiology for this discovery. The discovery of HCV was more challenging for researchers than Hep-A and Hep-B viruses because they were unsure if this virus alone can cause liver infection or not. After extensive research, they were able to find out that HCV can independently cause transfusion-related hepatitis which is equally deadly as hepatitis B.
The Nobel Committee shares that their discovery has enabled to design of highly accurate blood tests that identify these viruses within hours. It has also helped to prevent the post-transfusion cases of hepatitis which are common in many areas of the world. This indeed has helped to improve public health at large, and for this, the trio deserved this award.
Not just the diagnostics, this discovery has helped to design highly efficient anti-viral drugs that specifically target the hepatitis C virus. This is the first time that hepatitis C seems treatable and it has raised hopes of millions that are suffering from HCV-caused liver infection.
The World Health Organization reports that every year, at least 400,000 people lose their lives to this virus. This is an extremely chronic condition that can even turn into cancer.
The Nobel Prize of 2020 in medicine was highly significant because of the on-going pandemic which has changed the whole perception of public health and safety. It has also emphasized on more research on medically important pathogens which are capable of shaking the world economy.
One of the members of the Nobel Committee, Patrick Ernfors has called this award and the on-going efforts to find out a cure for coronavirus equally important. According to him, identifying the pathogen is the first step towards finding a treatment. Once the pathogen is identified, the drug development seems easy and even vaccine development can also be improved.
This Nobel Prize is a combination of a gold medal and a winning amount that is 10 million Swedish kronor (equals to more than $1,118,000). This Nobel Prize (2020) award in medicine is one of the six awards that will be announced until 12th October. It includes awards in other fields such as Literature, Chemistry, Peace, Physics, and Economics.