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Published: 06 Oct, 2020

Umeå virologist rejoice at Nobel Prize

NEWS One of this years Nobel Prize laureates in Physiology or Medicine, professor Charles M. Rice at the Rockefeller University in New York, has a connection to Umeå University. The WCMM researcher Gisa Gerold is Associate professor at the Department of Clinical Microbiology and was previously a postdoc with Rice. The virologist Gerold is delighted that the discovery of Hepatitis C virus is awarded with a Nobel Prize.

Text: Maria Israelsson Nordström

Charles M. Rice from The Rockefeller University in New York received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Harvey Alter and Michael Houghton for demonstrating that hepatitis C virus (HCV) was the causative agent of non-A non-B hepatitis. In the years following this groundbreaking discovery, the team around Charlie Rice delineated the molecular mechanism of HCV infection. This together with research in other laboratories paved the way towards the development of anti-viral agents, so called direct acting antivirals. As a result, chronic hepatitis C is to date a curable disease.

Gisa Gerold, Associate professor at the Department of Clinical Microbiology and the Wallenberg Center for Molecular Medicine at Umeå University and Professor for Biochemistry (focus Molecular and Clinical Infectiology) at the  University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany, performed her postdoctoral research with Charles M. Rice and published several papers with him on hepatitis C virus. Her postdoc took place after the discoveries that led to a Nobel Prize. In his laboratory, she delineated further the molecular mechanisms of how the virus gains access into liver cells. Moreover, she was involved in basic research aimed at the development of novel animal models to study the disease. HCV can experimentally only infect chimpanzees, which are banned as experimental animals in many countries. Hence, alternative animal models are needed for instance to develop a yet lacking vaccine for hepatitis C. Gisa Gerold together with Alexander Ploss, Charles M. Rice and many colleagues aided in understanding why mice and rhesus macaques are refractory to HCV infection and how those species blocks could be overcome. Finally, she together with Amit Kapoor, Ian Lipkin and Charles M. Rice was involved in the discovery of the first HCV related nonprimate virus in animals. This work spurred the discovery of several related viruses in nonprimate animals and may aid in developing surrogate models for future vaccine research.

Gisa Gerold states that she is extremely happy and had expected Charles M. Rice to receive the Nobel Prize for several years as his basic research spurred the development of cures for hepatitis C.

“Given the current coronavirus pandemic, it is important to realize that basic research is the key. By understanding the molecular details of how a virus infects humans or animals, we can devise strategies to treat or prevent infections.”, Gisa Gerold states. “This is a happy day for virology and for me personally as Charlie is one of smartest and at the same time modest scientists I know. It was an honor working with him.”, she concludes.

Read more on the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine here.

Read more on Gisa Gerolds research at Umu here.

Read more on Gisa Gerolds research at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover here and at Twincore here.