Geek (Trio) Of The Week: Alter, Houghton & Rice

Geek (Trio) Of The Week: Alter, Houghton & Rice

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis, from the Greek names for liver and inflammation, is a disease characterized by poor appetite, vomiting, fatigue and jaundice – yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes. Chronic hepatitis leads to liver damage, which may progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Viral infection is the leading cause of hepatitis, with some forms persisting without symptoms for many years before life-threatening complications develop. Until the 1960’s, exposure to blood from infected individuals was a major health hazard, with up to 30% risk of chronic hepatitis following surgery or multiple blood transfusions. This risk was only partially reduced by the discovery of the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the eventual elimination of HBV-contaminated blood through testing. A more insidious form of hepatitis, characterized by very mild symptoms in the acute phase and a high risk of progression to chronic liver damage and cancer, remained. The work of Alter, Houghton and Rice characterized this form of hepatitis to be a distinct clinical entity, caused by an RNA virus of the Flavivirus family, now known as Hepatitis C virus (HCV). This pioneering work has paved the way for the development of screening methods that have dramatically reduced the risk of acquiring hepatitis from contaminated blood and has led to the development of effective antiviral drugs that have improved the lives of millions of people. These guys are definitely worthy of Geek of the Week status.

About the Author

avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.