Nobel Prize in Medicine 2020 | UPSC
Three win Nobel Prize in medicine for discovery of Hepatitis C virus
WHY IN NEWS:
Hope sustains life !
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 1 : Awards : Diseases : Science and technology
For PRELIMS Hepatitis C is very important . We have mentioned the details . We will cover this in Editorial Hunts very soon .
For MAINS go through recombinant DNA technology once and keep an eye on transfusion methods.
NOBEL PRIZE IN MEDICINE 2020
- Harvey J Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M Rice won the prize for the discovery of the virus .
- The virus that caused several deaths in the 1960s and 1970s.
- The novel virus remained unknown till its discovery in the late 1980s.
- Hepatitis C virus is a bloodborne virus and causes liver diseases.
NOBEL PRIZE COMMITTEE ANNOUNCEMENT
- The discovery of the Hepatitis A and B viruses had been critical steps forward.
- The majority of blood-borne hepatitis cases remained unexplained.
- According to the World Health Organization, Hepatitis C virus causes 400,000 deaths globally every year.
- Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection.
- In the 1960s, American physician Baruch Blumberg discovered Hepatitis B virus .
- He was awarded a Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1976.
- Around the same time, Alter, who was then studying at the NIH, found a large number of patients reporting Hepatitis infection after blood transfusion.
- Several people were found to be infected with the Hepatitis B virus; the infection in remaining cases, however, could not be explained.
- Many subsequent studies confirmed Alter’s hypothesis of a mysterious illness that came to be known as “non-A, non-B” hepatitis.
- Houghton, then working for pharmaceutical firm Chiron, decided to do the genetic sequencing of the new virus to understand its characteristics.
- The new virus was named Hepatitis C virus.
- Rice, then a researcher at Washington University in St Louis, discovered that the new virus could replicate itself.
- It added the discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at Hepatitis C.
- For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating Hepatitis C virus from the world population.
- The Nobel Prize website said the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) was one of the important milestones in improvement in public health.
- This has also raised hopes for eliminating the disease.
TREATMENT OF HEPATITIS C
- A vaccine for this has not been developed mainly because it’s a very fast-changing virus.
- But it is possibly the only chronic virus for which a definitive cure is now available.
- Anti-viral drugs could be developed based on the understanding of the biology of the virus to which Harvey’s lab contributed very significantly.
- In fact, there were a few others whose contributions were equally significant, people like Robert Purcell and Ralf Bartenschlager.
- One of the important steps towards finding a vaccine was taken by an Indian company in the late 1990s.
- It had funded the work of a US-based Indian-origin scientist .
- The scientist had succeeded in sequencing the entire genome of the Hepatitis C virus present in the Indian population.
- But no progress was made after that.
WHAT IS HEPATITIS
- Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver.
- When the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected.
- However, hepatitis is often caused by a virus.
- The most common hepatitis viruses are hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus, and hepatitis C virus.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HEPATITIS A, HEPATITIS B, AND HEPATITIS C
- Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are liver infections caused by three different viruses.
- Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection.
- Hepatitis B and hepatitis C can also begin as short-term infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body and causes chronic (long-term) infection.
- There are vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B; however, there was no vaccine for hepatitis C.
WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?
- Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus.
- Hepatitis C can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, long-term illness.
- ACUTE HEPATITIS C occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis C virus.
- CHRONIC HEPATITIS C Can be a lifelong infection if left untreated. It can damage liver , cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and even death.
The hepatitis C virus is usually spread when someone comes into contact with blood from an infected person.
This can happen through:
►Sharing drug-injection equipment : sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs.
►Birth – From Infected mother to baby.
►Healthcare exposures.- Unhealthy healthcare practices.
►Sex with an infected person. – Unprotected sexual intercourse.
►Unregulated tattoos or body piercings. – During blood transfusions.
►Sharing personal items : Ex : Glucose monitors, razors, nail clippers.
- It is also not spread through food or water.
- The Hepatitis A virus was known to spread mainly through contaminated food and water.
- It caused a relatively milder form of liver inflammation.
- Incidentally, the discovery of the Hepatitis B virus too was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Medicine, given to Baruch Blumberg in 1976.
- There are vaccines available for this disease now.
- The discovery and identification of Hepatitis B virus facilitated the development of a diagnostic test to detect its presence in blood.
- In the 1960s, Alter had a collaborated with Blumberg, the 1976 Nobel winner.
- Alter works with the United States National Institute of Health (NIH);
- Rice is the executive director at Rockfeller University’s Center for the Study of Hepatitis C, also in the US.
- Houghton is a United Kingdom citizen, and works at Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute in Canada.
- Alter later moved to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he continues to work.
HOW IT STARTED
- At NIH, Alter worked at the blood bank and had access to a large collection of blood samples which facilitated his investigations into cases of hepatitis caused after blood transfusion.
- It was Alter, along with some of this colleagues, who was able to define the characteristics of the then unknown virus.
- But despite over 10 years of effort, Alter and his collaborators were not able to establish the identity of the virus.
- That work was accomplished by Houghton, who was working independently at Chiron Corporation, a US biotechnology firm.
- In 1997, Rice, then working at Washington University, was able to conclusively show that it was indeed this virus that was causing chronic hepatitis in human beings.
SOURCES:THE HINDU & PIB | Nobel Prize in Medicine 2020 | UPSC