Nobel Prize for medicine 2020

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Two Americans and a Briton won the 2020 Nobel Prize for Medicine on Monday for identifying the Hepatitis C virus, in work spanning decades that has helped to limit the spread of the fatal disease and develop antiviral drugs to cure it.

  • The discoveries by scientists Harvey J. Alter, Charles M. Rice and Briton Michael Houghton meant there was now a chance of eradicating the Hepatitis C virus.
  • The three share the 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) award for discovering and proving that a blood-borne virus could cause Hepatitis C, which afflicts more than 70 million people and causes about 4,00,000 deaths each year.
  • Nominations for this year’s award preceded the global spread of the new coronavirus pandemic, but the choice of winners recognises the importance of identifying a virus as the first step in winning the battle against a new disease, said Thomas Perlmann, secretary general of the Nobel Assembly.
  • It’s the second Nobel Prize for Medicine for hepatitis research, after Baruch Blumberg won in 1976 for determining that one form of blood-borne hepatitis was caused by a virus that came to be known as Hepatitis B.


Three steps

  • The shared prize recognises research dating back to the 1960s when Dr. Alter, working at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, found liver disease could be spread by blood transfusions that weren’t caused by Hepatitis A or B. It was a team led by Dr. Houghton, then working for pharmaceuticals firm Chiron, which was able in the mid-1980s to create a clone of a new virus from fragments found in the blood of an infected chimpanzee.
  • This virus, belonging to the Flavivirus family, was named Hepatitis C.
  • Its identification made it possible to develop tests to screen bloodbank supplies and greatly reduce the spread of the disease, which can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle came when Dr. Rice, then at Washington University in St. Louis, was able to use genetic engineering to generate a version of the Hepatitis C virus and demonstrate that it alone could cause symptoms in a chimpanzee comparable to an infection in humans.


About Nobel Prize

  • Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, engineer, industrialist, and the inventor of dynamite, in his last will and testament in 1895, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Literature, and Peace, to be called the “Nobel Prizes”.
  • In 1968, the sixth award, the Prize in Economic Sciences was started.
  • The Nobel Prize consists of a Nobel Medal and Diploma, and a document confirming the prize amount.
  • Between 1901 and 2018, the Prizes have been awarded 590 times, the recipients during this period being 908 Laureates and 27 organisations.


How candidates are nominated?

The Nobel Committees of four prize-awarding institutions every year invite thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates, and members of parliamentary assemblies among others to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year.

  • The nominators are selected in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented over time.
  • One cannot nominate himself/herself for a Nobel Prize.

The institutions that choose winners:

  • The Nobel Committees of the prize-awarding institutions are responsible for the selection of the candidates, the institutions being:
    • Nobel Prize in Physics, Nobel Prize in Chemistry: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
    • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The Karolinska Institute
    • Nobel Prize in Literature: The Swedish Academy
    • Nobel Peace Prize: A five-member Committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament 
    • Prize in Economic Sciences: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

The following Indians (or individuals of Indian origin) have been honored with the Nobel: 

  • Rabindranath Tagore (Literature, 1913), C V Raman (Physics, 1930), Hargobind Khorana (Medicine, 1968), Mother Teresa (Peace, 1979), Subramanian Chandrashekhar (Physics, 1983), the Dalai Lama (Peace, 1989), Amartya Sen (Economics, 1998), Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (2009), and Kailash Satyarthi (Peace, 2014).


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