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Nobel Prize winner did groundbreaking research while in St. Louis

Charles M. Rice was on the faculty at Washington University while working on the discovery of the hepatitis C virus

ST. LOUIS — Groundbreaking research done in part at Washington University in St. Louis was awarded one of the most prestigious awards in the world.

Charles M. Rice is one of three scientists awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus. The research he did on the discovery was done while he was on the faculty of WashU’s School of Medicine from 1986-2001.

“Charlie is an absolutely brilliant scientist and a wonderful human being who has made a deep impression on all those who have worked with him,” said Dr. David H. Perlmutter, executive vice chancellor at the school of medicine. “His work on hepatitis C has improved the lives of so many people, and he represents the best of what Washington University stands for.”

In announcing the prize, the Nobel Committee noted the research identified a major source of the blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the previously discovered hepatitis A and B viruses.  The work has helped save millions of lives, the Nobel 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.

Rice jointly won the prize along with fellow American Harvey J. Alter and British-born scientist Michael Houghton. They’ll each receive a gold medal and will split $1.1 million courtesy of a bequest left by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.

Rice is now at Rockefeller University in New York City but remains an adjunct professor in the Department of Microbiology at the School of Medicine. On Monday, colleagues at WashU praised his groundbreaking work.

“Charlie Rice is an amazing person, a spectacular scientist, and a wonderful colleague,” said Scott J. Hultgren, PhD, the Helen L. Stoever Professor of Molecular Microbiology. “He was a phenomenal leader and colleague here at Washington University.”

“Dr. Rice for many decades has been a pioneer in the field of molecular biology and genetics of many emerging RNA viruses,” said Diamond, MD, PhD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine. “His seminal studies on hepatitis C virus directly led to the screening and identification of direct-acting antiviral drugs that have resulted in a cure for so many people around the world. Moreover, he has mentored and trained a generation of virologists who are now at the vanguard of the field. This is truly a deserving honor for a visionary scientist.”

Rice is the 19th scientist association with WashU’s School of Medicine to be honored with the Nobel Prize.