The challenge: After hepatitis A and B were discovered, a new virus emerged that could not be identified through traditional methods of viral detection. This new virus was frequently transmitted through blood transfusion, possibly leading to serious consequences such as cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure and even death.
The work: The combined research of these scientists led to the isolation and discovery of the hepatitis C virus and subsequent, preventative screening tests which have virtually eliminated the spread of the virus through blood-transfusions.
Why it matters: Chronic hepatitis C virus affects approximately 150 million people worldwide and can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and even death. In fact, over 350,000 people, globally, die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases. Diagnosis of the hepatitis C virus is now a reality and has led to treatment which can cure most patients. In hepatitis B virus and HIV infections, treatment can only control the virus, whereas in hepatitis C, treatment can eradicate the virus completely.
After graduating from San Jose State University in 1964, Dr. Bradley was recruited by the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) to develop methods to detect a variety of carcinogenic compounds in the atmosphere, a very dangerous task. Upon completion of his service in the USPHS, he went on to earn a Master’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of California and a Doctorate from the University of Arizona. In 1971 he was hired by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Phoenix, Arizona to study whether ascorbic acid had the ability to shorten the course of respiratory virus infections. Finding no such benefit, Dr. Bradley then spent his time working on hepatitis A and B viruses, researching their infectivity in non-human primates. These studies were conducted between 1972 and 1975 and led to the identification of a new group of hepatitis viruses. In 1975, his laboratory was contacted by a scientist from Hyland Laboratories interested in the possible identification of a virus responsible for non-A, non-B hepatitis in several hemophiliac patients. Further studies conducted in 1970s and 1980s revealed the presence of a flavivirus, which led to the early identification of what is now known as hepatitis C virus (HCV). Although a fragment of the HCV genome was identified in 1987, public announcement of the successful cloning of HCV was not made until 1989.