Edmonton & Area News Provincial

Nobel Prize winner talks pandemic prevention, biotech future with Edmonton city council

Dr. Houghton’s Nobel Prize is the first time in 97 years that an academic at a Canadian university has won the prestigious honour. (City of Edmonton)

Nobel Prize-winning University of Alberta professor Dr. Michael Houghton came to the nucleus of municipal democracy in Edmonton with this message: science is the answer to the tragic human cost of pandemics.

“The answer to all of these problems, these viral infectious diseases, lies with science,” Houghton told a physically distanced meeting of Edmonton City Council. 

“Science doesn’t fail us. It has once again come to our rescue with COVID with the rapid evolution of very new technologies to develop vaccines.” 

‘Many fine minds’ at U of A

Houghton, a virologist at the University of Alberta, spoke via the internet as Council formally recognized and celebrated his Nobel Prize. He and two fellow researchers won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the hepatitis C virus in 1989. 

The breakthrough, made in Houghton’s laboratory, triggered blood tests used around the world to prevent transmission of hep C from blood donations. After two more decades of work between academics, the private sector and public health officials, antiviral medication to cure hep C patients was developed. 

Nobel happened here, in Edmonton

“I’m particularly pleased I got it while I’m working at the University of Alberta,” said Houghton of the prize. 

“There are many fine minds and I see, in the time I’ve been there, a willingness to translate their science into social benefits. I see that all the time.” 

Houghton and his team at the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Applied Virology have developed a vaccine for hep C that is now in pre-clinical testing. The team is also leading an effort to produce a vaccine for COVID-19.

It’s the first time in almost a century that an academic at a Canadian university has won the Nobel Prize. Houghton has been at the University of Alberta for a decade.

“The fact that this happened right here, in Edmonton, at the University of Alberta, should make all of us all tremendously proud,” said Mayor Don Iveson.