The year 2020 Nobel prize in Medicine or Physiology has been awarded jointly to 3 scientists Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice from America and Michael Houghton from United Kingdom for their discovery of Hepatitis C virus.
How was the Hepatitis C virus discovered?
Hepatitis B virus was already discovered in the 1960s and was considered to be responsible for blood transmitted hepatitis, therefore, blood used to be tested for the virus before blood transfusions to avoid blood transfusion-related Hepatitis B disease.
Although the number of patients infected through blood transfusion was reduced post Hepatitis B screening, but a large group of individuals were still contracting the disease after blood transfusions. It meant that apart from Hepatitis B another unidentified causative agent responsible for the disease existed.
Harvey J. Alter and colleagues showed that blood from these infected individuals transmitted the disease to chimpanzees (only susceptible animal apart from humans). As the disease neither spread from Hepatitis A nor B so it was then called “non-A, non-B” Hepatitis.
Later almost after a decade, Michael Houghton in 1989 finally identified the unknown causative agent as the Hepatitis C virus. The final question of whether Hepatitis C virus can on its own cause hepatitis was answered by the work of Charles M. Rice. Rice’s lab works to understand virus replication and innate immune responses that fight infection.
Mode of transmission of Hepatitis virus
Both Hepatitis B and C virus are found in the blood of infected individuals, therefore before blood transfusions, one is now checked for the presence of both the viruses. It can also be transmitted by sharing needles, sexual contact, contaminated medical or tattooing equipment’s. If a mother is infected with the virus she can also transmit it to her child during birth. It is important to note that Hepatitis A is not transmitted by blood or blood products.
What is the significance of the Hepatitis C virus discovery?
Identification of the causative agent of an infectious disease is the most basic and crucial step in fighting a successful battle against the disease. Due to their discoveries, today we have developed advanced testing kits to identify the Hepatitis C virus and have been able to prevent the blood transmitted hepatitis during blood transfusions.