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How an Alberta researcher's discovery of hepatitis C led to the… – Todayville.com

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: John Bergeron, Emeritus Robert Reford Professor and Professor of Medicine, McGill University

This year, the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to virologists Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and biochemist Michael Houghton for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. This recognition is yet a further testimonial of the need for discovery research to address the ravages of viral disease.

Hepatitis C infection led to an estimated 400,000 deaths in 2016. Similar to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, hepatitis C is an RNA virus. However, hepatitis C enters the body through the blood stream, where it then attacks the liver to lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. 

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C virus, but the basic science discoveries of the Nobel laureates have contributed to the development of antiviral drugs. 

Chimpanzee No. 910

In 1989, Houghton — alongside biochemist Qui-Lim Choo, geneticist Amy Weiner and virologists George Kuo, Lacy Overby and Daniel Bradley — reported the discovery of a new virus they named hepatitis C. At the time, nothing was known about this virus. 

So, how did the researchers go about deciphering experimental information to come up with the identification of a new virus? The team infected chimpanzees with serum from a patient diagnosed with hepatitis of unknown cause. The key experimental animal was a chimpanzee named No. 910; DNA and RNA were extracted from its plasma. 

Using molecular biology techniques of the time, complementary DNA was made in the test tube to the nucleic acids extracted from the chimpanzee plasma. The complementary DNA was then inserted into a bacterial virus known as a bacteriophage lambda. These bacterial viruses are used to infect E. coli to make proteins in large quantities. 

New virus discovery

To the amazement of Houghton and his team, the serum from a hepatitis patient contained antibodies that recognized proteins made in this way. These antibodies had detected a previously unknown lethal virus. Further experimentation with rigorous controls established that this represented a new RNA virus. A blood test was developed to detect patients infected with this virus they had discovered.

In 1975, Howard Alter discovered a form of lethal hepatitis in some patients who had received blood transfusions. Later, Charles Rice proved that the virus Houghton and his colleagues had discovered was the cause of this form of hepatitis.

Biotech Nobels

The Nobel Prize recognizes the work he conducted at the biotech company Chiron Corporation. The discovery is not the first Nobel Prize given to a biotech discovery — the polymerase chain reaction method, or PCR, used today to test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is also a consequence of a biotech discovery. This discovery was made by Kary Mullis, who received the 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work done at Cetus Corporation, one of the first biotechnology companies. 

The innovations exemplified by these two Nobel Prizes heralds a new direction in discovery research through the talent and resources attracted to biotechnology via venture capital.

Houghton and his team developed a hepatitis C vaccine that is now in pre-clinical testing. He is also at the front lines of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. His current research — funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research — aims to develop a vaccine against the key protein of these viruses that infects humans.

Houghton was recruited to Canada in 2010 in part through the Canada Excellence Research Chair program. Houghton’s 10 years in Edmonton as Director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute has already led to the development of drugs for hepatitis C, as well as others that might be used to treat COVID-19.

Until recently, Canadian health research leaders could be funded for their research through the Foundation Grants program of CIHR. Regrettably, this program has now been terminated. This may be jeopardizing our hope for sustained excellence at the highest level to assure that we have the best talent for discovery research.

The recognition to Houghton in Alberta will hopefully embolden efforts to support our trailblazers throughout Canada, as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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John Bergeron gratefully acknowledges Kathleen Dickson as co-author.

John Bergeron does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Disclosure information is available on the original site. Read the original article:

https://theconversation.com/how-an-alberta-researchers-discovery-of-hepatitis-c-led-to-the-nobel-prize-and-saved-lives-147553

John Bergeron, Emeritus Robert Reford Professor and Professor of Medicine, McGill University, The Conversation

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Rare 'blue moon' to appear on Halloween this year – North Shore News

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The year 2020 has brought many surprises and this year’s Halloween is no different.

A rare “blue full moon” will be appearing on Halloween night this year.

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While the moon will not look blue, the term “blue moon” is given when two full moons appear in a single month.

A full moon on Halloween occurs roughly once every 19 years – a pattern known as the Metonic Cycle.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanc, the cycle is uncommon and happens on average every two and a half to three years with the last time two full moons appearing in the same month in 2018.

The next illuminated Halloween full moon, says astronomers, after 2020 will be in the 2039, 2058, 2077 and 2096.

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Rare 'blue moon' to appear on Halloween this year – The Tri-City News

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The year 2020 has brought many surprises and this year’s Halloween is no different.

A rare “blue full moon” will be appearing on Halloween night this year.

article continues below

While the moon will not look blue, the term “blue moon” is given when two full moons appear in a single month.

A full moon on Halloween occurs roughly once every 19 years – a pattern known as the Metonic Cycle.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanc, the cycle is uncommon and happens on average every two and a half to three years with the last time two full moons appearing in the same month in 2018.

The next illuminated Halloween full moon, says astronomers, after 2020 will be in the 2039, 2058, 2077 and 2096.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx grabs rocks from asteroid in historic mission – Al Jazeera English

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A NASA spacecraft touched down on the rugged surface of the Bennu asteroid on Tuesday, grabbing a sample of rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system to bring home.

It was a first for the United States – only Japan has previously secured asteroid samples.

The so-called “Touch-And-Go” manoeuvre was managed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, where at 6.12pm (22:12 GMT) on Tuesday an announcer said: “Touchdown declared. Sampling is in progress,” and scientists erupted in celebration.

Seconds later, the Lockheed mission operator Estelle Church confirmed the spacecraft had eased away from the space rock after making contact, announcing: “Sample collection is complete and the back-away burn has executed.”

The historic mission was 12 years in the making and rested on a critical 16-second period where the minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft extended its 11-foot (3.35-metre) robotic arm towards a flat patch of gravel near Bennu’s north pole and plucked the sample of rocks – NASA’s first handful of pristine asteroid rocks.

The probe will send back images of the sample collection on Wednesday and throughout the week so scientists can examine how much material was retrieved and determine whether the probe will need to make another collection attempt.

This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu was composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on December 2, 2018 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km) [NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Handout via Reuters]

Scientists want at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and, ideally, closer to 4 pounds (2 kilogrammes) of Bennu’s black, crumbly, carbon-rich material – thought to contain the building blocks of the solar system. The asteroid is located more than 200 million miles (321.9 million kms) from Earth.

NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, likened Bennu to the Rosetta Stone: “Something that’s out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system, during the last billions of years.”

‘Exactly perfect’

If a successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will begin its journey back towards Earth, arriving in 2023.

“Everything went just exactly perfect,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said on a NASA live feed from Lockheed’s mission support building. “We have overcome the amazing challenges that this asteroid has thrown at us, and the spacecraft appears to have operated flawlessly.”

The robotic arm’s collection device, shaped like an oversized shower head, is designed to release pressurised gas to kick up debris.

The spacecraft launched in 2016 from Kennedy Space Center for the journey to Bennu. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years preparing for the Touch and Go manoeuvre.

Bennu, which is more than 4.5 billion years old, was selected as a target because scientists believe it is a small fragment of what was once a much larger space rock that broke off during a collision between two asteroids early on in the history of the solar system.

“Asteroids are like time capsules floating in space that can provide a fossil record of the birth of our solar system,” Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of Planetary Science, told Al Jazeera. “They can provide valuable information about how planets, like our own, came to be.”

Thanks to data collected from orbit, the NASA team has determined two key discoveries: first, that between 5 and 10 percent of Bennu’s mass is water, and second, that its surface is littered with carbon-rich molecules. Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could help scientists better understand what role asteroids played in bringing water to the Earth and seeding it with the prebiotic material that provided the building blocks for life.

Studying that material could also help scientists discover whether life exists elsewhere in the solar system, as well.

“If this kind of chemistry is happening in the early solar system, it probably happened in other solar systems as well,” Lauretta, OSIRIS-Rex’s principal investigator, told Al Jazeera in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s breakthrough. “It helps us assess the likelihood of the origin of life occurring throughout the galaxy and, ultimately, throughout the universe.”

Japan expects samples from its second asteroid mission – in the milligramMEs at most – to land in the Australian desert in December.

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