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China’s Tu Youyou wins Nobel Prize for medicine

Updated: Oct 6,2015 3:28 PM

Three scientists from China, Ireland and Japan have won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discoveries that have helped doctors fight malaria and infections caused by roundworm parasites. Tu Youyou is the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel Prize for work carried out within China.

“The Nobel assembly at the Karolinska Institute has today awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with one half jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites and the other half to Tu Youyou for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria,” said professor Urban Lendahl, Nobel assembly member.

The Nobel Assembly says the discoveries of the 2015 Nobel laureates represent a paradigm shift in medicine. It has not only provided revolutionary therapies for patients suffering from devastating parasitic diseases, but has also promoted wellbeing and prosperity for both individuals and society.

This is the first Nobel Prize given to a Chinese scientist for work carried out within China. The last time a Chinese national won a Nobel Prize was in 2012, when Mo Yan got the literature award.

Nobel assembly member Jan Andersson said that the award to Tu comes after the Chinese had invested in science and “completely changed the way they structure how they do science.”

“They had started to do the western traditional way of having libraries, for instance, where you can actually get literature, information on what the rest of the world has done. They have also learned to collaborate in groups, because that is how science is developed: you work close together with many other people. And you also look for the international contributions via, for instance, libraries, where everything that has done is stored. So I think it’s a complete change in the structure in how they do science in China, and now they become awarded for it and belong to the scientific community to a higher extent than they had done in the last 50 years,” said Jan Andersson, Nobel assembly member.

Tu, 84, is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and received several medical awards in the past.

She discovered artemisinin in 1971, know as “Qing-hao-su” in Chinese. It’s a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rate for patients suffering from malaria.

The discovery of artemisinin and its use in treating malaria are regarded as a significant breakthrough in tropical medicine in the 20th century. It is also a major health improvement for people in developing tropical countries in south Asia, Africa, and South America.

Tu won the 2011 Lasker Award in Clinical Medicine for discovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, used also to treat malaria. Tu was also the first native Chinese who was educated and works in China to win the Lasker award.