News Release

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dr. Harvey Alter selected to receive 2013 Canada Gairdner International Award

Infectious disease researcher and clinician, Harvey J. Alter, M.D., chief of clinical studies and associate director of research in the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, has been selected to receive the 2013 prestigious Canada Gairdner International Award at the conclusion of the Gairdner National Program events on Oct. 24, 2013 in Toronto.

Dr. Alter shares the award with Daniel Bradley, Ph.D., consultant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Michael Houghton, Ph.D., researcher and professor at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, for their critical contributions to the discovery and isolation of the hepatitis C virus, which has led to development of new diagnostic and therapeutic agents.

“Dr. Alter’s career-long achievements in blood safety have done much to advance the cause of human health,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “We at NIH are thrilled that he is being recognized with this prestigious international honor.”

Thirty years ago, about a third of transfused people received tainted blood, which later inflamed their livers, producing hepatitis (also called viral hepatitis), the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation. Dr. Alter was the 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.

“Dr. Alter’s research achievements in hepatitis have been transformative for public health practice in the U.S. and abroad,” said John I. Gallin, M.D., director of the NIH Clinical Center. “We are proud of his prominence in the field of biomedical research and the path he lays for the next generation of researchers.”

The Canada Gairdner International Award is given to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science and whose work has contributed significantly to improving the quality of human life.

The Gairdner National Program is a 10-day celebration of science excellence across Canada. The program takes place in 21 academic centers across the country during the third week in October and is unique in the world of awards. Current and past recipients visit academic centers to present their work and answer questions from scientists, postgraduate, graduate and medical students. Additionally, honorees participate in the High School Student Outreach lectures as part of the Canada Gairdner Awards emphasis on stimulating interest in health and science among young people.

Since instituted in 1959, the Canada Gairdner Awards have become Canada’s foremost national and international awards. Five honorees of the International Awards are selected each year after a rigorous two-part review by a medical review panel made up of active Canadian scientists in mid-career and a medical advisory board, composed of 24 senior scientists from across Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Japan. To date there have been 313 awardees, of whom 80 have gone on to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Dr. Alter earned his medical degree at the University of Rochester Medical School, N.Y., and trained in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, and at the University Hospitals of Seattle. He came to the NIH Clinical Center as a senior investigator in 1969. In 2000, Dr. Alter was awarded the prestigious Clinical Lasker Award and in 2002, he became the first Clinical Center scientist elected to the National Academy of Sciences and in that same year was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Only a small number of scientists nationally are elected to both these scientific societies.

To view a video of Dr. Alter describing his work in hepatitis research visit NIH YouTube channel. For more details on the 2013 Canada Gairdner Awards, visit

About the NIH Clinical Center: The NIH Clinical Center is the 240-bed clinical research hospital for the National Institutes of Health. Through clinical research, clinician-investigators translate laboratory discoveries into better treatments, therapies, and interventions to improve the nation's health. For more information, visit

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