Harvey J. Alter

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Harvey J. Alter, chief of the infectious disease section in the department of transfusion medicine at the National Institutes of Health

Harvey James Alter (born September 12, 1935) is an American medical researcher, virologist, and physician who is best known for his work that led to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. [1] Alter is the chief of the infectious disease section and the associate director for research of the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the mid-1970s, Alter and his research team demonstrated that most post-transfusion hepatitis cases were not due to hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Working independently, Alter and Edward Tabor, a scientist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, proved through transmission studies in chimpanzees that a new form of hepatitis, initially called “non-A, non-B hepatitis” caused the infections, and that the causative agent was probably a virus. This work eventually led to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus in 1988. [1]

Alter has received recognition for the research leading to the discovery of the virus that causes hepatitis C. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award conferred to civilians in United States government public health service, and the 2000 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research.[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Alter was born in New York, New York.[4] He attended the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. In 1960, Alter obtained a medical degree from University of Rochester. Alters's post graduate training includes a rotation as a clinical associate at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland from 12/61-6/64; a year of residency in medicine at University of Washington Hospital System, Seattle, Washington from 7/64-6/65; and work as a hematology fellow at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC from 7/65-6/66.

Career[edit]

Alter has a medical license issued by the District of Columbia. Additionally he holds certification by the American Board of Pathology-Subspecialty Blood Banking and is a fellow of the American College of Physicians/American Society Internal Medicine. Clinical appointments include: director, hematology research at Georgetown University Hospital from 7/66-6/69; senior investigator in the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the NIH from 7/69-present; chief of infectious diseases section at the department of transfusion medicine in the Clinical Center NIH from 12/72-present; associate director for research at the department of transfusion medicine at the Clinical Center at NIH from 1/87-present.

Alter's academic appointments include: clinical associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital; Adjunct Professor at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, TX; clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University Hospital; and a faculty position at Clinical Research Training Program at the NIH.[3]

Alter came to the NIH Clinical Center as a senior investigator in 1969. He remains at the NIH as a chief of the infectious diseases section and associate director of research in the department of transfusion medicine.

Medical research[edit]

As a young research fellow in 1964, Alter co-discovered the Australian antigen with Baruch Blumberg.[5] This work was a major factor in isolating the hepatitis B virus. Later, Alter led a Clinical Center project to store blood samples used to uncover the causes and reduce the risk of transfusion-associated hepatitis. Based on his work, the United States started blood and donor screening programs that lowered the cause of hepatitis due to this risk from 30 percent in 1970 to nearly 0.[6]

Discovery of hepatitis C[edit]

In the mid-1970s, Alter and his research team demonstrated that most post-transfusion hepatitis cases were not due to hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Alter, in collaboration with Bob Purcell and Paige L. Meredith, proved through transmission studies in chimpanzees that a new form of hepatitis, initially called “non-A, non-B hepatitis” caused the infections. This work eventually led to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. In 1988 the new hepatitis virus was confirmed by Alter's group by verifying its presence in their stored panel of NANBH specimens.[7] In April 1989, the discovery of the non-A, non-B virus, renamed hepatitis C virus, was published in two articles in Science.

Honors and award[edit]

Alter has received recognition for his research including the 2000 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research for his work leading to the discovery of the virus that causes hepatitis C. Alter and his co-awardee Michael Houghton were recognized for the development of blood screening methods that essentially eliminated the risk of transfusion-associated hepatitis in the U.S.[2] Other honors for his medical research include the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award conferred to civilians in United States government public health service.[3] Alter has been elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. In 2002 he received The International Society of Blood Transfusion Presidential Award. And in 2005, he received the American College of Physicians Award for Outstanding Work in Science as Related to Medicine, and the First International Prize of Inserm (the French equivalent of NIH).

Speaking of Alter's long research career at the time of the 2000 Lasker Award, Dr. Harvey Klein, chief of the Clinical Center Transfusion Medicine Department noted, "As a young research fellow, Dr. Alter co-discovered the Australia antigen, a key to detecting hepatitis B virus. For many investigators that would be the highlight of a career. For Dr. Alter it was only an auspicious beginning." [8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b McHenry Harris; Randall E. Harris (2013). Epidemiology of Chronic Disease. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7637-8047-0. 
  2. ^ a b The Lasker Foundation
  3. ^ a b c Harvey J. Alter Curriculum Vitae
  4. ^ Henrichsen, Colleen (September 21, 2000). "NIH Clinical Center scientist a Lasker Award recipient". Press release. NIH. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  5. ^ "The NIH Almanac". Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. June 4, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  6. ^ 2005 NIH profile
  7. ^ Alter.pdf[dead link]
  8. ^ Clinical Center News October 2000

Further reading[edit]