October 5, 2020 arrived with the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Medicine being jointly awarded to three scientists for their 1989 discovery of the hepatitis C virus. The scientific work of Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice answered a significant question: since hepatitis A and B had already been discovered and was attributed to some cases of liver cirrhosis, what was causing the majority of cases of hepatitis?
Each of the three scientists made specific and significant contributions which collectively led to their breakthrough:
- Harvey J. Alter – showed that an unknown virus existed that was commonly causing hepatitis
- Michael Houghton – isolated the genome of the virus that became know as hepatitis C
- Charles M. Rice – produced the final evidence showing that the new virus could by itself cause hepatitis
Years later the world recognizes the negative impacts hepatitis C has on human life, comparable to HIV and tuberculosis. Equally recognized are the strides made towards eliminating hepatitis C in the areas of testing; a cure in the form of effective direct acting antiviral drugs; and increased global awareness. It could be speculated that the reason for the time gap between the laureate scientists’ discovery in 1989 and the 2020 Nobel Prize award is because the arc of change their work led to is more evident now than ever.
How might this Nobel Prize announcement impact the BC community?
- One of the scientists, Michael Houghton, is currently working in Canada at the University of Alberta. It is an encouraging reminder that Canada is a global player in the scientific community.
- It points out the important role of scientific research. In BC we are fortunate to have research as part of our landscape in furthering change for hepatitis C.
- It strengthens public awareness that hepatitis C is a significant public health issue. This awareness helps provide leverage in advocacy work as we drive for change.
- The opportunity exists to acknowledge progress, but also where we need to go in BC, especially regarding linkage to care, stigma reduction, and policy reform.
Scientific research is one of the many roles in BC that collectively moves us towards eliminating hepatitis C. We are in a stage of coordinated effort between the various roles that include people with lived experience of hepatitis C, community based organizations, health authorities, public health agencies, healthcare practitioners, and government. Through collective effort in BC we will continue to witness the arc of change of hepatitis C.
To learn more about our peer-based project currently underway, see the Hepatitis C Leadership Project page.
Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! Monte Strong, Hepatitis C Leadership Project Coordinator, [email protected]