Harvey J. Alter, M.D.

Scientist Emeritus

Transfusion Medicine Department

NIH Clinical Center

Building 10, Room 1C711
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892



Research Topics

Dr. Alter co-discovered the Australia antigen, a key to detecting hepatitis B virus. Later, he spearheaded a project at the Clinical Center that created a storehouse of blood samples used to uncover the causes and reduce the risk of transfusion-associated hepatitis. He was principal investigator on studies that identified non-A, non-B hepatitis, now called hepatitis C. His work was instrumental in providing the scientific basis for instituting blood donor screening programs that have decreased the incidence of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis to near zero. In 2013 he received the Canada Gairdner International Award, given to a scientist whose advances have had, or will potentially have, a significant impact on health outcomes in the developing world. Alter continues to study the infectious risks of blood transfusion, but now focuses on agents other than hepatitis viruses. In addition, he continues to study the natural history and outcomes of hepatitis C virus infection.


Dr. Alter earned his medical degree at the University of Rochester Medical School, and trained in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital and at the University Hospitals of Seattle. In 1961, he came to the National Institutes of Health as a clinical associate. He then spent several years with Georgetown University, returning to NIH in 1969 to join the Clinical Center's Department of Transfusion Medicine as a senior investigator, becoming Chief of the Clinical Studies and Associate Director of Research in the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the NIH Clinical Center. In 2000, Alter was awarded the prestigious Clinical Lasker Award. In 2002, he became the first Clinical Center scientist elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and in that same year he was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Only a small number of scientists nationally are elected to both of these scientific societies.

Dr. Alter has won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Dr. Alter is a Senior Scholar at the NIH Clinical Center's Department of Transfusion Medicine and shares the award with Michael Houghton, Ph.D., University of Alberta, Canada, and Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., Rockefeller University, New York City.

Selected Publications

  2. Alter HJ, Holland PV, Purcell RH, Lander JJ, Feinstone SM, Morrow AG, Schmidt PJ. Posttransfusion hepatitis after exclusion of commercial and hepatitis-B antigen-positive donors. Ann Intern Med. 1972;77(5):691-9.
  3. Alter HJ, Purcell RH, Shih JW, Melpolder JC, Houghton M, Choo QL, Kuo G. Detection of antibody to hepatitis C virus in prospectively followed transfusion recipients with acute and chronic non-A, non-B hepatitis. N Engl J Med. 1989;321(22):1494-500.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Thursday, October 8, 2020