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UR grad one of 3 winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine

Oct 5, 2020

Dr. Harvey Alter in 2015 when he received UR's Hutchison Medal and spoke at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry's commencement ceremony.
Credit University of Rochester

A graduate of the University of Rochester Medical School is one of three winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine announced early on Monday.

Harvey J. Alter earned a 1956 bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester, and a 1960 M.D. degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. 

He trained in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital and at the University Hospitals of Seattle.

In 1961, he joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a clinical associate. He spent several years at Georgetown University before returning to NIH in 1969 to join the clinical center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine as a senior investigator.

Along with Alter, the other recipients of the Nobel Price for Medicine are Charles M. Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

Announcing the prize in Stockholm on Monday, the Nobel Committee noted that the trio's work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn't be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses. Their work makes possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives, the committee said.

“Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health,” the committee said.

“Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C,” the commitee added. “For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating hepatitis C virus from the world population.”

University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf praised Alter as an example of Rochester’s tradition of using education to improve the world.

“We are enormously proud that Harvey Alter has received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine,” Mangelsdorf said. “Dr. Alter exemplifies Rochester’s long tradition of scientific research and discovery. His contributions to solving the global public health challenge of Hepatitis C are an example of Meliora in action—making the world ‘ever better.’ We are honored to count him among our most distinguished alumni.”

Alter is the 13th University of Rochester graduate or faculty member to receive a Nobel Prize.

Mark Taubman, CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, said that the university is “proud that his distinguished medical career began here, and hope his accomplishments provide inspiration to the young physicians and scientists to-be who are studying and training within the same walls.”

Includes reporting by the Associated Press.