Three researchers have won this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus, Reuters reports.
Harvey Alter from the US National Institutes of Health, Michael Houghton at the University of Alberta, and Rockefeller University's Charles Rice are sharing the prize for their work, which the Nobel committee describes as 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."
As the Guardian notes, researchers in the 1940 knew that hepatitis could be spread by contaminated food or water, as in the case of hepatitis A, or by blood or other bodily fluids. But even after hepatitis B was uncovered in the 1960s — a discovery that led to its own Nobel Prize — Alter found those viruses didn't account for all hepatitis infections and his work indicated another virus could be at play. Houghton, then at the pharmaceutical firm Chiron, used human antibodies to isolate the virus and sequence it, while Rice, then at Washington University in St. Louis, further showed the isolated virus could cause hepatitis, the Guardian adds.
"Before the discovery of the hepatitis C virus it was a bit like Russian roulette to get a blood transfusion," committee member Nils-Goran Larsson tells Reuters, and adds that, because of the trio's contribution, blood transfusions are now safer.