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Nobel Laureate Medicine 2020: Michael Houghton

Michael Houghton
With a passion for medical research sparked at the age of 17, Michael Houghton has been able to prevent millions of people from suffering from hepatitis C, and he expects a vaccine in the near future, hopefully within the next decade. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has heightened awareness about the prevalence and ferocity of viruses and the need for better detection and treatment to prevent widespread infections. For decades, thousands of people have been contracting and dying of hepatitis C, a strain of the hepatitis virus transmitted by infected blood, usually through shared needles. People can unknowingly be infected with hepatitis C for decades, before cirrhosis of the liver or cancer are discovered, revealing its presence. Hepatitis C has killed about 400,000 people a year for the past 50 years. Today the spread of hepatitis C is much more under control, thanks to work by researchers who earned the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Dr. Michael Houghton, Ph.D., University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, identified the hepatitis C virus in 1989, along with colleagues Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo. Houghton shared the prize with Dr. Harvey Alter, M.D., U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Dr. Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., Rockefeller University in New York City. Making a difference News of winning the Nobel Prize for his years of work left Michael Houghton feeling, “Very pleased, honored and happy, but a little sad that some close colleagues were not co-recipients,” Houghton notes. He adds that he was fortunate to work in conjunction with both Alter and Rice, whom he called excellent scientists and clinicians. “Alter is great, he did a lot of work in the 1970s that showed hepatitis C was blood borne, but not strain A or B,” says Houghton. “And Rice is one of the world’s greatest virologists, he brought a lot of talent to the field.” Reading about the life and work of Louis Pasteur when he was 17 sparked Houghton’s interest in medical research, which has become his passion. “It’s hard work and takes a long time, but when you get it to work, it’s just so satisfying to make a difference,” he says. “What drives me is knowing what spreads it [a virus.]”     ”We had a decent chance to solve the problem” Michael Houghton came to the University of Alberta in 2010 as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology in the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. In recent months he has been working remotely from his home in California. Trained as a molecular biologist in the United Kingdom, he and his wife moved to the U.S. in 1982, when recombinant DNA technology started to emerge in the 1980s and most of the labs were in America. Houghton took a job at Chiron Corporation, where he met Qui-Lim Choo
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