British scientist Michael Houghton, who works at the University of Alberta, and Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology on Monday for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Here are five things to know about Houghton and his achievement:
1) Houghton turned down the prestigious the Canada Gairdner International Award and its $100,000 prize in 2013 for the same line of research. He told The Canadian Press at the time that he couldn’t accept it when Dr. Qui-Lim Choo and Dr. George Kuo, two of his key collaborators, weren’t recognized for their contribution to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
2) It took Houghton seven years, working with Choo and Kuo at the Chiron Corporation, now owned by Novartis, to identify the hepatitis C virus. According to Houghton, Dr. Daniel Bradley at the Centre for Disease Control in the United States provided many crucial biological samples to make the discovery possible.
3) The discovery of the hepatitis C virus by Houghton and his team in 1989 led to great strides in slowing the spread of the disease. New screening tests were developed for blood donations as a result of their discovery. By 1992, the virus was virtually eliminated from the North American blood supply. That led to a reduction in annual reported transmission by more than 80 per cent by 1996.
4) The University of Alberta recruited Houghton in 2010 and he moved to the Edmonton area shortly thereafter where he became the director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute.
5) Frederick Banting and John Macleod, at the University of Toronto, won Canada’s only Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1923. The University of Alberta said Houghton, though British, is the first scientist at a Canadian university to win a Nobel in the same discipline in 97 years.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2020.
The Canadian Press