Monday, October 5, 2020 4:07 pm
By Nehru Odeh
This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has been jointly awarded to Harvey J. Alter, Charles M. Rice – both Americans – and a Briton, Michael Houghton for the discovery of Hepatitis C.
The prestigious award, which comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1,118,000), is one of the most sought after in the world. And it signals the peak of human achievements in certain specialized fields. It was awarded at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet on Monday.
This award is very significant as it is coming at a time the globe is currently battling with the novel coronavirus and making frantic efforts to find solution to it.
Announcing the laureates via a news release, the Nobel Assembly said the three scientists “made seminal discoveries that led to the identification of a novel virus.”
It also said the trio had “made a decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world.”
The Nobel Prize also tweeted today: “For the first time in history, the Hepatitis C virus can now be cured. The 2020 Medicine Laureates’ discoveries revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.”
This indeed is no mean feat and the scientists deserve the accolades and recognition they have received According to World Health Organization, a significant number of those who contracted Hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer and about 71 million people have chronic cases globally.
An interesting thing about the award is that it came as a surprise to the awardees, as they were not expecting it. Secretary of the Nobel Assembly, Thomas Pearlman, told CNN that he had to call the winners several times before he finally got Alter and Rice
“I woke them up and they were very surprised, they were definitely not sitting by the phone because I called them a couple of times before without any answer,” he said after making the announcement.
“But once I reached them they were extremely surprised and really happy and speechless almost, so it was really fun to talk to them.”
As reported by the CNN, here are the reasons the scientists were jointly awarded the prestigious prize.
“The methodical studies of transfusion-associated hepatitis by US scientist Alter demonstrated that an unknown virus was a common cause of chronic hepatitis.
“Houghton — a British scientist — used an untested strategy to isolate the genome of the new virus that was named Hepatitis C.
“Rice, another American, provided the final evidence showing that Hepatitis C virus alone could cause hepatitis.”
The Nobel Prize, awarded annually, recognize outstanding achievements in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economic Sciences.
The awards came into existence in 1895, when Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, created a fund that would give the largest portion of his fortune to those who serve humanity’s. Almost 600 awards have been given between 1901 and 2019.