A Nobel win for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus
By the 1970s, it was well-known that hepatitis B, a virus-induced form of liver inflammation, spreads through blood and other bodily fluids. Despite this, a significant number of patients receiving blood transfusions were still developing hepatitis due to another, then-unknown infectious agent that also had the characteristics of a virus.
In the mid-1970s, IRP researchers led by Steve Feinstone, M.D., discovered the hepatitis A virus, which causes similar symptoms to hepatitis B but spreads through food and water. With that identification made, an IRP team led by Harvey Alter, M.D., was able to tease out hepatitis cases unrelated to either the A or B forms, ultimately defining a new, distinct form of chronic viral hepatitis, which was called at the time “non-A, non-B” hepatitis and later became known as hepatitis C.
This research was instrumental in leading to the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic agents for viral hepatitis, as well as providing the scientific basis for instituting blood donor screening programs that have decreased the incidence of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis to near zero and saved millions of lives. Dr. Alter won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
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