Virologists Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and biochemist Michael Houghton have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
Hepatitis C is transmitted by contaminated blood, often through shared needles or blood transfusions. Many sufferers are unaware they have contracted the virus until the pathogen has already established itself in the body. The virus silently attacks the liver, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer in the infected patient. It chronically affects more than 70 million people worldwide.
The discovery of the hepatitis C virus has enabled the generation of diagnostic tests to screen the blood for the agent responsible for blood-borne transmission of hepatitis. These tests have been rolled out worldwide. While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C at the current time, antiviral treatments are capable of arresting the multiplication of the virus in the body. This enables the patient to the cured of the disease in a matter of weeks.
Most cases of the virus are now treatable, and it is anticipated that the hepatitis C virus may be entirely eliminated in the future.
Read more about the work of the award recipients at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/health/nobel-prize-medicine-hepatitis-c.html.