UEA graduate awarded Nobel Prize for Medicine

Published by  Communications

On 6th Oct 2020

Dr Michael Houghton receiving his Honorary Graduate degree at UEA

UEA alumnus and honorary graduate Dr Michael Houghton has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work into the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, which has saved millions of lives worldwide. 

Dr Houghton was one of three scientists revealed earlier this week as one of this year's laureates for the medical breakthrough of a disease that infects around 71 million people worldwide. 

The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine is awarded annually for a discovery of major importance in life science or medicine that is of great benefit for humankind. 

Dr Houghton graduated from UEA with a BSc in Biological Sciences in 1972 and following a seven year pursuit alongside colleagues Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, discovered Hepatitis C in 1989, at a time when scientists were growing increasingly concerned that tests for Hepatitis B were only accounting for a minority of hepatitis cases resulting from blood transfusion. 

Hepatitis C can lead to scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver if left untreated and can potentially cause life-threatening liver failure or cancer. 

In the last 15 years, Dr Houghton has been a part of teams who have developed drugs and treatments which can cure 95% of people infected with Hepatitis C within a couple of months, with minimal side effects. 

Thanks to the discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available which have effectively eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world and greatly improved global health. Now that the disease can be cured, there is hope that the Hepatitis C virus could be eradicated from the world population. 

Last year, Dr Houghton received an Honorary Doctorate in Science from UEA as part of their graduation celebrations. 

He said at the time: “I am deeply honoured and pleased to receive this honorary degree since my BSc degree at the UEA in 1972 set me on the path to a career in medical research. My degree at UEA was a great time in my life - excellent teaching and a wonderful overall experience that I treasure.” 

Dr Houghton is currently Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology and Li Ka Shing Professor of Virology at the University of Alberta, where he is also Director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute.

UEA Vice-Chancellor Professor David Richardson said: “We are immensely proud to see one of our graduates go on to win the Nobel Prize. Professor Houghton demonstrates all that can be achieved in a scientific career and serves as a great example for all the students at the university today. 

“I was delighted to welcome Professor Houghton back to UEA in 2019 to receive an honorary Doctorate in recognition of his contributions to science and global health.” 

Dr Houghton can be heard speaking about his discovery of the virus on Monday’s (5 October) PM programme on Radio 4 (skip to 35 minutes in).

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