A richly deserved honour: Medicine Nobel for discovery that made blood transfusions safer

By: |
October 7, 2020 3:00 AM

Hepatitis C virus (HCV), along with hepatitis B and HIV, is among the major pathogens for blood-borne infections, and as per the WHO, about 71 million people in the world—6-11 million Indians included—suffer from HCV infection, a top cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

While Alter and his collaborators, working through the 1970s, defined the characteristics of the virus, Houghton and his research partners identified the virus in 1982; in 1997, Rice conclusively showed that the virus was responsible for chronic hepatitis in human beings.While Alter and his collaborators, working through the 1970s, defined the characteristics of the virus, Houghton and his research partners identified the virus in 1982; in 1997, Rice conclusively showed that the virus was responsible for chronic hepatitis in human beings.

In a year when the world has been held hostage by a virus, the Nobel for physiology/medicine going to the scientists who discovered the hepatitis C virus seems apt. American scientists Harvey Alter and Charles Rice and the UK’s Michael Houghton have been recognised by the Nobel committee for their groundbreaking discovery that has made blood transfusion safer. Hepatitis C virus (HCV), along with hepatitis B and HIV, is among the major pathogens for blood-borne infections, and as per the WHO, about 71 million people in the world—6-11 million Indians included—suffer from HCV infection, a top cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Before the 1970s-1980s, when the virus was discovered and identified, the world knew of two hep-viruses, A and B—A was responsible for a milder form of liver disease and was transmitted through contaminated food and water, while B was more insidious, with signs of infection manifesting years after contraction, as serious liver conditions like cirrhosis and cancer. For years after HBV’s discovery—which also won the scientists behind it the Nobel—chances of blood-borne liver-conditions continued to cloud blood transfusions till the time HCV was discovered; even though blood was screened for HBV, this brought down the blood-borne liver disease by just 20%. While there are effective anti-virals that treat HCV infection and tests that detect presence in blood marked for transfusion, a vaccine is yet to be developed.

While Alter and his collaborators, working through the 1970s, defined the characteristics of the virus, Houghton and his research partners identified the virus in 1982; in 1997, Rice conclusively showed that the virus was responsible for chronic hepatitis in human beings. The well-deserved honour for the three, however, brings to sharp relief a limitation of the Nobel Prize. In 2013, it had been reported that Houghton had refused a well-known honour for his work on hepatitis C because it excluded co-workers George Quo and Qui-Lim Choo, who he believed made seminal contributions to the research. Though Houghton has accepted the Nobel, he used his moment in the limelight to underscore the inadequacy of the ‘three persons’ cap for the prize. As per a Guardian report, Houghton remarked that “Great science, often, is a group of people and I think going forward we somehow need to acknowledge that”.

Get live Stock Prices from BSE, NSE, US Market and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Financial Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest Biz news and updates.

Next Stories
1Mapping Infections: Google has released a hotspot feature for its US users; other countries need to do the same
2Close the digital gaps: Govt must provide devices & internet to poor students
3Road to economic redemption: It is going to be a long haul ahead, don’t fool yourself