UB physician remembers his Nobel Prize-winning mentor

Oct 7, 2020

A local doctor who specializes in liver diseases is celebrating his mentor sharing a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work discovering the Hepatitis C virus.

On the cusp between graduation from medical school and starting his specialist training, Dr. Andrew Talal saw science take what had been called Non-A, Non-B hepatitis be identified and named as Hepatitis C.

That was the start of a quarter century of medical research that developed treatments and then a cure for a disease that afflicts 3-5 million Americans and 70 million people around the world. Hep C can also lead to more serious diseases, like liver cancer, and can be fatal.

During Talal's training, his mentor was Rockefeller University's Dr. Charles Rice. On Monday, Rice was one of three scientists awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their Hep C work.

Dr. Andrew Talal in his lab.
Credit Kaleida Health

Talal said Rice was a great teacher.

"Very encouraging. He was tough, I have to say, but once you were able to meet his standards, it really made getting a paper accepted much easier," said Rice, "and it's much better to have that benchmark be internal rather than external."

The University at Buffalo Jacobs Medical School professor said Rice's work is a classic example of what can be done.

"Not only do we know what we are fighting, but over the course of the last 25 years, we identified that there was an organism. We identified what that organism was and we developed the ability to grow it so that the appropriate therapeutic interventions could be developed," Talal said.

Once the virus was found, doctors could begin to study it and find treatments.