NIH Clinical Center

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For immediate release
Sept. 21, 2000

Contact: Colleen Henrichsen , Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center Communications Office, (301) 496-2563

NIH Clinical Center scientist a Lasker Award recipient

NIH Clinical Center scientist a Lasker Award recipient Dr. Harvey J. Alter, infectious disease specialist at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, will receive the 2000 Lasker Award for clinical medical research during ceremonies in New York City on Sept. 22.

He shares the award with Dr. Michael Houghton, a scientist with the Chiron Corporation. It honors Dr. Alter's ongoing studies to uncover the causes and reduce the risks of transfusion-associated hepatitis and Dr. Houghton's continuing work in molecular biology to isolate the hepatitis C virus.

"Dr. Alter's studies of hepatitis have tremendously benefited the nation's public health efforts in the arena of blood safety," said Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, NIH principal deputy director. "His work spans 35 years of creativity, focus and tenacity."

"What makes the Lasker Award so special is the scientific stature and eminence of the people who nominated and elected me to be the recipient," commented Dr. Alter on his selection. "That such individuals would recognize my work as important and clinically significant is by far the highest honor I could achieve."

"He is a model for the clinical scientist," said Dr. John I. Gallin, Clinical Center director. "He has been a leader in the effort to improve blood safety, and his investigations have been instrumental in the virtual elimination of transfusion-associated hepatitis in the United States."

A native of New York City, Dr. Alter earned the MD degree at University of Rochester. He came to the NIH Clinical Center as a senior investigator in 1969.

"As a young research fellow, Dr. Alter co-discovered the Australia antigen, a key to detecting hepatitis B virus," noted Dr. Harvey Klein, chief of the Transfusion Medicine Department at the NIH hospital. "For many investigators that would the highlight of a career. For Dr. Alter it was only an auspicious beginning."

Thirty years ago, about a third of transfused people received tainted blood, which later inflamed their livers, producing a condition known as hepatitis. To combat this problem, Dr. Alter spearheaded a project at the NIH Clinical Center that created a storehouse of blood samples used to uncover the causes and reduce the risk of transfusion-associated hepatitis. Because of his work, the U.S. instituted blood and donor (more) page 2 NIH's Alter receives Lasker Award screening programs that have served to increase the safety of the blood supply.

Dr. Alter used this repository of clinically linked blood samples to identify another puzzling clinical problem. "Most transfusion-related hepatitis was found to be due to a virus different from the two then-known hepatitis agents, A and B," Dr. Alter said. He called this new form of hepatitis non-A, non-B hepatitis and subsequently proved through transmission studies in chimpanzees that it was due to a new agent. Vigorous efforts in dozens of laboratories failed to identify the presumptive virus or develop a test for it. Eventually, a Chiron Corporation team led by Dr. Houghton exploited the blossoming methods of molecular biology to isolate the virus now known as the hepatitis C virus.

The Lasker Awards, first presented in 1946 and often called America's Nobels, annually honor the country's most outstanding contributions in basic and clinical medical research. The Lasker Awards are administered by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation; the late Mary Lasker is widely recognized for her singular contribution to the growth of NIH and her commitment to the cause of biomedical research.


The Clinical Center is the clinical research hospital for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Through clinical research, physicians and scientists translate laboratory discoveries into better treatments, therapies and interventions to improve the nation's health.


Last Modified January 16, 2001

Last Modified May 17, 2001

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