The Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology or Medicine for this year has been awarded to Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton on Monday for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, a major source of liver disease that affected millions worldwide.
The winners were announced by the head of the Nobel Committee Thomas Perlmann in Stockholm.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and around 400,000 deaths each year. The chronic disease is a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1,118,000), courtesy of a bequest left 124 years ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.
Announcing the prize in Stockholm, the Nobel Committee noted that the trio’s work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the previously discovered hepatitis A and B viruses.
“Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” the Nobel committee said.
“Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C,” adding that the disease can now be cured and eradicated.
“For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population,” it said.
The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine is the first of the six prizes being conferred through October 12. The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.