October 5, 2020


Harvey Alter, M.D., Wins the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

National Institutes of Health intramural researcher Harvey J. Alter, M.D., received the award for his contributions to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. He shares the award with Michael Houghton, Ph.D., at University of Alberta, and Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., at Rockefeller University.

About Dr. Alter’s Research

In the 1970s, despite the discovery of hepatitis B, Dr. Alter saw a significant number of patients receiving blood transfusions still developed chronic hepatitis due to an unknown infectious agent. He and his colleagues demonstrated that the unknown infectious agent had the characteristics of a virus. Dr. Alter’s methodical investigations defined a new, distinct form of chronic viral hepatitis, which was called at the time “non-A, non-B” hepatitis and later became called hepatitis C.

Why It’s Important

Dr. Alter’s work was instrumental in leading to the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic agents and providing the scientific basis for instituting blood donor screening programs that have decreased the incidence of transfusion-transmitted hepatitis to near zero and has saved millions of lives.

This page last reviewed on December 10, 2020