Thursday, 15 September 2016 08:29

German-American Virus research Team honored with Lasker Award Featured

The virologists Prof. Ralf Bartenschlager from the Heidelberg University and two American colleagues will be awarded the highest medical and scientific award of the USA, the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. The award is regarded as the unofficial "American Nobel Prize in Medicine". The scientists will be honored for their long-lasting research on breeding of hepatitis C virus in cell culture systems.

The hepatitis C virus is spread worldwide. It is leading to chronic liver infection. About 3-4 million people are infected new with the virus every year. Estimated 130-170 million people are chronically infected. It is said that 50-85 percent of all infections which lead to a chronic stage appear frequently uncharacteristic and mild. However, in up to 35 percent of the patients the infection results in a liver cirrhosis 20-25 years later. The proportion who developed liver cancer is up to 5 percent.

Prof. Bartenschlager is head of the department of Molecular Virology at the Center for Infectious Diseases, University Hospital Heidelberg. Together with his two American colleagues, Prof. Charles M. Rice from Rockefeller University in New York and Dr. Michael Sofia, Chief Scientific Officer at Arbutus Pharma, USA. he will be awarded the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Prize.

In 1999, the team led by Prof. Bartenschlager multiplied the hepatitis C virus in human liver cells for the first time after they had altered the virus minimally. Since humans are the only natural host of the virus, research with animals is unnecessary. By using this successfully developed cell culture system the prize winner were able to develop highly effective drugs over the years. Nowadays, more than 95 percent of patients suffering from chronic hepatitis C can be cured.

The prize is worth $ 250,000. The ceremonial award presentation will take place in New York on the 23th of September 2016.

In cooperation with the MIT in Boston laureate Prof. Charles Rice from the Rockefeller University has developed among others a micro-culture model using human liver cells in which hepatitis B virus can also be studied.

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