Discovery of Hepatitis C Takes Nobel Physiology or Medicine for 2020 Home

The discovery made possible new medicines that saved millions of lives.
Utku Kucukduner

2020 Nobels are here. This year's Nobel for Physiology or Medicine has just been announced. The prize was awarded jointly to three researchers: Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice.

The award-winning study is titled "Discovery of the hepatitis C virus," which was published in 2009.

A major global health problem

Hepatitis is a virogenic disease that's mostly indicated by liver inflammation. World Health Organization estimates that there are over 70 million cases per year, with about 400,000 annual deaths. This is likely an underestimation as many cases, especially in the underdeveloped fringes of the world, go undiagnosed.

The disease is among the leading contributors to liver cancer cases and liver transplantation. There are three main viruses that cause hepatitis disease, we call them hepatitis A, B, and C. They belong to different families and have a slightly differing cause.

Hepatitis A is generally transmitted through contaminated food and water, and is usually an acute infection. Those who recover from it develop lifelong immunity. Hepatitis B and C, however, are transmitted through blood and are chronic. It progresses silently and thus, deadly. In about 10 to 30 years, the disease takes its toll and causes cirrhosis, eventually leading to liver cancer.


Hepatitis disease first took humanity's notice some 70 years ago when people who underwent multiple blood and purified-blood-product transfusions began experiencing liver problems. In 1967, Brooke Bloomberg discovered Hepatitis B. The culprit behind Hepatitis C was only discovered in 2009.

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The Nobel program

The program for upcoming Nobel Prize winners goes like this:

  • Physics – Tuesday 6 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
  • Chemistry – Wednesday 7 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
  • Literature – Thursday 8 October, 13:00 CEST at the earliest
  • Peace – Friday 9 October, 11:00 CEST
  • Economic Sciences – Monday 12 October, 11:45 CEST at the earliest
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