Harvey J. Alter (1935-Present)
Harvey Alter, M.D., is an NIH physician scientist and virologist best known for his work that led to the discovery of hepatitis B and C. For the latter work, on hepatitis C, he was awarded the 2000 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research and the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Alter came to the NIH in 1961 as a Clinical Associate. He left in 1964 to pursue residency and fellowship opportunities but returned to the NIH 1969 as in investigator in the Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine. He became Chief of the Clinical Studies Section and, in 1987, Associate Director of Research in the Department of Transfusion Medicine.
Alter dedicated his career to studies intended to ensure the safety of blood transfusions. In 1963, with Baruch Blumberg, he co-discovered the Australia antigen, the surface antigen of the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which led to isolating HBV and ultimately creating a vaccine to prevent infection. In the 1970s, while analyzing blood from NIH patients and blood donors, Alter discovered what he then called non-A, non-B hepatitis. This led to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus by 1988 as well as screening tests that reduced the risk of contracting hepatitis via a blood transfusion to nearly zero. Later in his career, Alter worked on a DNA approach to vaccines.
- NIH Intramural Research Program Website
- National Academy of Sciences Member Directory
- The Unpredictable Payoffs of Basic Research: Hepatitis
- Reflections on the History of HCV: A Posthumous Examination, Harvey J. Alter. ,Patrizia Farci, Jens Bukh, Robert H. Purcell, Clinical Liver Disease, 15, 564 (2020).
- The road not taken or how I learned to love the liver: A personal perspective on hepatitis history. Harvey J. Alter, Hepatology, 59, 4 (2014)
- Detection of MLV-related virus gene sequences in blood of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and healthy blood donors, Shyh-Ching Lo, Natalia Pripuzova, Bingjie Li, Anthony L. Komaroff, Guo-Chiuan Hung, Richard Wang, and Harvey J. Alter, PNAS, 107, 15874 (2010).
- Detection of antibody to hepatitis C virus in prospectively followed transfusion recipients with acute and chronic non-A, non-B hepatitis. Alter HJ, Purcell RH, Shih JW, Melpolder JC, Houghton M, Choo QL, Kuo G. N Engl J Med., 321(22):1494-500 (1989).
- Posttransfusion hepatitis after exclusion of commercial and hepatitis-B antigen-positive donors. Alter HJ, Holland PV, Purcell RH, Lander JJ, Feinstone SM, Morrow AG, Schmidt PJ. Ann Intern Med.;77(5):691-9 (1972).
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Dr. Harvey Alter with Lasker Award in 2000.Photo credit: Bill Branson, courtesy of the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum
Dr. Harvey Alter in NIH Clinical Center Department of Transfusion Medicine, 2004.Photo credit: Rhoda Baer, courtesy of the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum
Dr. Harvey Alter at his desk in the NIH Clinical Center Department of Transfusion Medicine, 2000.Photo credit: Bill Branson, courtesy of the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum