AABB Congratulates Harvey J. Alter, MD, Recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

October 06, 2020

As we were preparing to begin Day 3 of the 2020 AABB Virtual Annual Meeting, we were thrilled to learn that Harvey J. Alter, MD, senior scholar at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine and a longtime AABB member, was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). He shares the award with Charles M. Rice, PhD, and Michael Houghton, PhD.

Alter is a previous member of AABB’s Transfusion Transmitted Diseases Committee. During his distinguished career, he has been the recipient of several AABB Memorial Awards, including the 1987 Emily Cooley Memorial Award and Lectureship, the 1992 Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award and Lectureship, and the 2011 Tibor Greenwalt Memorial Award and Lectureship. Across social media and through the virtual gatherings at this year’s AABB Annual Meeting, members of the blood community offered congratulations and appreciation for Alter’s leadership in the field of transfusion medicine.

Here are a few thoughts from leaders in the blood community:   

“Dr. Harvey Alter’s contributions to the field of medicine are undeniably profound and impactful. His honor is well deserved. His effect on the people around him, including NIH fellows over the last 30 years, has been equally profound and impactful.”
-P. Dayand Borge. Jr. MD, PhD, divisional chief medical officer, Northeast and Central Atlantic Divisions, American Red Cross

“This award is recognition of a body of work that has had as much influence on my practice of infectious diseases as anything, including effective antiretroviral drugs, during my forty years taking care of patients. Where watchful waiting was all we had for decades, we now have curative therapy managed in my clinic by advance care nurses, without the need for mere docs to interfere. Just remarkable. What an honor to call Harvey a pal.”
-Louis M. Katz, MD, chief medical officer, Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center

“I recall visiting the NIH for one of my spouse’s national hemophilia meetings. She was then the lead nurse practitioner for the Boston Children’s clinic. Many of her patients were affected both by HIV and hepatitis C. There we heard Dr. Alter describing their efforts to isolate and identify the virus causing hepatitis C only to be scooped in the final identification by the California company that got first credit. It is a testimony to the Nobel organization that they recognized all three as equals.”
-Jed Gorlin, MD, MBA, Medical Director and Vice President, Quality and Regulatory Affairs, Innovative Blood Resources

“Harvey Alter won the Nobel Prize today! When I was a resident, ‘non-A, non-B’ hepatitis was a great scourge. His discovery of hepatitis C improved the safety of the blood supply, enhanced understanding of liver cancer, and led to a cure this type of hepatitis. Harvey was always omnipresent at AABB meetings with great data, funny poems, a kind word and good cheer. With no irony whatsoever, this ‘couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy!’ What a great day for him, and for transfusion medicine! First Landsteiner; now Harvey!”
-Steven Spitalnik, MD, Co-Director of the Laboratory of Transfusion Biology at Columbia University Medical Center

Joining a Class of Titans

Karl Landsteiner, widely considered to be “the father of transfusion medicine,” received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930. Alter now joins Landsteiner as a representative of the transfusion medicine community among the distinguished recipients of the Nobel Prize.

AABB congratulates Alter on this tremendous honor.