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Amid all the ruckus caused by the novel coronavirus, the field of health and medicine is getting the long due attention and recognition. The announcement of one of the world’s highest honors, The Nobel Prize, has highlighted the fact that investment and improvement in the health domain is the need of the hour for every country across the world.

Who has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine this year?

The prize is handed over to Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles Rice in Stockholm.

Three people, one British and two American scientists, have been jointly awarded the Nobel prize for Medicine in 2020. The award was announced on Monday, October 5, for their impressive contribution to the identification of the Hepatitis Virus C, the same virus which is said to cause liver cancer and cirrhosis.

While handing over the insignia, the Nobel Committee said that the work of these three ingenious has helped the medical experts to comprehend a major source of blood-borne hepatitis. Hepatitis A and B viruses had failed to explain this source. Not only this but their unearthing study has also helped scientists all over the world to understand the cause of the other remaining cases of chronic hepatitis. All this leads to the creation of new medication and blood testing procedures that have helped save millions of lives across the globe.

What is the Hepatitis C Virus?

Hepatitis originated from the Greek names of Liver and inflammation put together. The symptoms of this disease include vomiting, fatigue, jaundice, and poor appetite. The disease also brings with it a yellow discoloration of eyes and skin.

Hepatitis may be of the following types on the basis of causation:

  1. Infectious Hepatitis
  2. Metabolic Hepatitis
  3. Ischemic Hepatitis
  4. Autoimmune Hepatitis
  5. Genetic Hepatitis
  6. Toxic Hepatitis

Toxic hepatitis is associated with alcohol abuse. On the other hand, five different types of RNA or DNA viruses are the leading factors behind infectious hepatitis.

A person who has chronic hepatitis may have a damaged liver, which, in turn, causes cirrhosis or liver cancer. Majorly, Hepatitis C is caused by a viral infection. Some forms of the virus could exist for several years before being diagnosed as precarious complications. In the early 1960s, infection exposure to blood was a critical health condition. Despite the risk being reduced by the discovery of Hepatitis B danger of progression to permanent liver damage and cancer was still prevalent.

The studies by these scientists have proven to be a pioneering step towards the creation of antiviral drugs that have saved millions of patients across the globe. 

WHO ARE THE AWARDEES?

  1. Who is Harvey James Alter?

Alter is an 85-year-old American Medical researcher, born in 1935. He has attracted immense global respect and recognition for his studies and indignation in context with the discovery of the Hepatitis C Virus. Alter has published more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed international journals. It would not be wrong to sing the praises of his research skills.

Nobel Committee mentions that he has pursued this applaudable research work at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where he remains active to date. He went to the University of Rochester, New York, to pursue medicine and completed his post-graduation in the same from the Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, and within the University of Washington Hospital system, Seattle. He also worked as a clinical associate with the National Institutes of Health.

2. Who is Charles Rice?

Born in 1952, Charles belongs to Sacramento, California but has carried out his research on hepatitis at the Washington University in St. Louis. The 68-year-old Nobel awardee works at the Rockefeller University in New York.  

Charles has been a part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences as well as the president of the American Society for Virology from the year 2002 to 2003.

It was 2016 when he received the prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. He received it jointly with Ralf F W Bartenschlager and Michael J Sofia.

3. Who is Michael Houghton?

Michael Houghton is a 70-year-old British Scientist. He pursued her studies at the Chiron Corporation in California; after which she moved to the University of Alberta in Canada.

Born in 1950, Houghton has written and published a series in 1989-90 revolving around the Hepatitis C antibodies in the blood.

Apart from the newly awarded Nobel prize, he is also a recipient of the following laurels:

  1. Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award in the year 1992
  2. The Robert Koch Prize in 1993
  3. The International Hepatitis Foundation Award in 1998

How did this discovery help?

Thanks to the discovery by Charles, Alter, and Houghton, HCV is now in many cases a curable disease. The lesions related to the disease are also reversible. Reports reveal that the short-term anti-viral treatment can potentially treat 95% of the patients; this also includes the high-level serious cases which could not respond to the previous treatments. The discovery of the Hepatitis C virus has now enabled us to develop sensitive blood tests as well as anti-viral drugs. However, making this treatment available and accessible around the world at a macro scale is a critical goal still remaining to be achieved.

The combination of medication that triggered severe viral infections, collectively known as Directly Acting Antivirals or DAAs, has been identified to be highly effective. It is reported to cause no or minor side effects while stringently tackling the risk of choosing the drug-resistant variants of the virus.

This memorable contribution by the scientists has already left an imprint on the lives of several medical patients globally. 

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