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ST. LOUIS – The efforts of the three scientists—one from Washington University Medical School—are now saving millions of lives.

Dr. Charles Rice worked in the med school’s labs for about 14 years. His work and the work of his two colleagues at other institutions resulted in a cure and prevention of hepatitis C.

When the phone rang at 4 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 5, Rich thought the last person it would be was someone from the Nobel Prize committee.

“I figured this was probably crank phone call,” Rice said.

But it wasn’t. The person with a Swedish accent said that Rice and two others, Doctors Harvey Alter and Michael Houghton, had won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on hepatitis C.

“He’s a visionary scientist who made fundamental discoveries in virology that resulted directly in the development of drugs that save millions of people’s lives,” said Dr. Michael Diamond, a virologist at Washington University Medical School.

Hepatitis C is an insidious and deadly blood-borne virus that causes severe liver disease in more than 71 million people worldwide. Rice spent many hours in a Wash U. lab. During those years, Dr. Adrian Di Bisceglie from St. Louis University Hospital collaborated with all three doctors.

“It’s an honor for me to know these people and to say I worked with them,” Di Besceglie said.

It took 36 years of research using technology that was primitive by today’s standards; in the end, they did it. Now their accomplishments are being recognized and celebrated around the world.

“Everybody is very proud of them and their accomplishments,” Di Bisceglie said. “These are wonderful people.”

The three men will receive gold medals and a share of a million-dollar cash prize.

Rice, who now conducts research at New York City’s Rockefeller University, said he wouldn’t feel comfortable spending the money on himself.

“I’ll probably give it away to some deserving entity,” he said.

Rice is the 19th scientist associated with Washington University to be honored with a Nobel Prize.