A few minutes ago at the Swedish Karolinska Institute, the first prize of the 2020 Nobel season was awarded to three scientists Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice. This is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their decisive contribution in the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a global health problem that causes cirrhosis and cancer. worldwide liver mail.
Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice made the subtle discoveries that led to the identification of the hepatitis C virus. Prior to their work, the discovery of hepatitis A and B viruses was The progress is important, but the majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remain inexplicable.
The discovery of the hepatitis C virus has revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis. This way doctors can do blood tests and pharmaceutical companies can produce new drugs to save millions of lives.
Harvey J. Alter was born in 1935 in New York. He received his medical degree from the University of Rochester Medical School, trained in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital and Seattle University Hospital. In 1961, he joined the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). He spent several years at Georgetown University before returning to NIH in 1969 to join the Clinical Center’s Blood Transfusion Medical Department as Senior Research Fellow.
Michael Houghton was born in the United Kingdom. He received his Ph.D. in 1977 from King’s College London. After graduating, he worked at GD Searle & Company before moving to Chiron Corporation, Emeryville, California in 1982. Houghton then moved to the University of Alberta in 2010 and is currently the President of the Institute of Excellence in Cânda’s virology.
Charles M. Rice was born in 1952 in Sacramento. He received his Ph.D. in 1981 from the California Institute of Technology, where he also trained as a postdoctoral fellow between 1981-1985. He founded his research group at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis in 1986 and became a full professor in 1995.
Since 2001, he has been a Professor at Rockefeller University, New York. Between 2001 and 2018, he was the Scientific and Executive Director of the Hepatitis C Research Center at Rockefeller University.
Hepatitis – a global threat to human health
Hepatitis is a disease mainly caused by viruses, although alcohol abuse, environmental toxins and autoimmune diseases are also causes. In the 1940s, scientists discovered only two main types of infectious hepatitis.
The first type, named hepatitis A, is transmitted through contaminated water or food and usually has little long-term effects on patients. The latter is transmitted through blood, body fluids and is a much more serious threat as it can lead to a chronic condition, with the development of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
This is an implicit form of hepatitis because otherwise healthy people can be infected quietly for many years before serious complications develop. Blood-borne hepatitis is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. The disease causes more than one million deaths a year worldwide and has become a global health concern on the same scale as HIV infection and tuberculosis.
An unspecified infectious agent
The key to successful prevention of infectious diseases is identifying the pathogen. In the 1960s, Baruch Blumberg identified a blood-borne form of hepatitis caused by the hepatitis B virus and the discovery led to the development of diagnostic tests with an effective vaccine. Blumberg was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in Medical Physiology for this discovery.
At the time, Harvey J. Alter at the US National Institutes of Health was studying hepatitis in blood transfusion patients.
Although blood tests for the newly discovered hepatitis B virus have reduced the number of cases of transfusion-induced hepatitis, Alter and colleagues demonstrated that a large number of other hepatitis cases remain. happening. Tests for Hepatitis A virus infection were also developed around this time, but it is clear that Hep A was not the cause of Alter’s cases.
The mysterious illness is called hepatitis “not A, not B”.
Determination of hepatitis C virus
In this urgent situation, identifying a new virus is a top priority. All traditional techniques for hunting viruses are already in use, but despite this, the virus has eluded humans for over a decade.
Michael Houghton, who was then working for the pharmaceutical company Chiron, took on the arduous work of sequencing the virus’s genome. Houghton and his colleagues created a collection of DNA fragments from nucleic acids found in the blood of a “non-A not B” infected chimpanzee.
Most of these fragments come from the chimpanzee’s own genome, but researchers predict that some may have originated from an unknown virus. Under the assumption that antibodies against the virus would be present in the blood taken from hepatitis patients, the researchers used the patient’s serum to identify cloned viral DNA fragments that encode proteins.
After thorough searches, a copy was found. Further studies showed that this clone was derived from a new RNA virus belonging to the Flavivirus family that is named the Hepatitis C virus.
The discovery of the hepatitis C virus is of decisive significance; But a fundamental part of the puzzle remains unsolved: Can viruses cause hepatitis? To answer this question, the scientists had to investigate whether the cloned virus could multiply on its own and cause disease.
Charles M. Rice, a researcher at Washington University in St. Petersburg Louis, along with other groups have been working with viral RNA to locate a previously undetermined region at the end of the hepatitis C virus genome – something they suspect could help mimic cloning. Rice also observed genetic variations in isolate virus samples and hypothesized that some of them might interfere with viral replication.
Through genetic engineering, Rice finally created an RNA variant of the hepatitis C virus that included the newly defined region of the viral genome and without the inactivated genetic variants. When this RNA was injected into the chimpanzee liver, the virus was detected in the blood and pathological changes similar to those seen in people with chronic liver disease.
This is final evidence that hepatitis C virus alone can cause blood-borne cases of hepatitis.
The importance of the discovery was awarded a Nobel Prize
The discovery of the hepatitis C virus by Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice is a landmark achievement in the fight against viral diseases.
Thanks to their discovery, high-sensitivity blood tests for the virus are now available and these tests have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, significantly improving the health of the patient. global health status.
Their discovery also allows for the rapid development of antiviral drugs to cure hepatitis C. For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured and we have hope to erase it. Hepatitis C virus is permanently removed from the world population.