By Annisa Essack
The Nobel Assembly announced the Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology and Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm today.
The prize was awarded jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice today for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
The trio “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. Before their work, the discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward, but most blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.
The discovery of the Hepatitis C virus revealed the cause of the remaining cases of chronic hepatitis and made possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, a condition that can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis or scarring, cirrhosis, or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.