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  • Tu Youyou: Nobel Prize in Medicine
  • 06 Oct. 2015

  •          A screen shows the 2015 Nobel laureates for Physiology or Medicine including China's Tu Youyou, Japan's Satoshi Omura and Irish-born William Campbell (R to L) at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, Oct. 5, 2015.
             Eighty-five-year-old Chinese pharmacologist Tu Youyou became China's first medicine Nobel laureate when it was announced she was one of three scientists awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in developing effective drugs against parasitic diseases.
             William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura were recognized for their novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.
             While Tu was honored for developing Artemisinin, a drug therapy for malaria that has saved millions of lives across the globe, especially in the developing world, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute disclosed on its website on Monday.
             Tu, a Chinese trained pharmacologist and a researcher at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, would like to go to Oslo, Norway in December to receive her award in person, according to Cao Hongxin, the science and technology department head of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and former director of the academy.
             "She sounded calm and said she has received lots of congratulatory calls," Cao told China Daily on Monday after he telephoned Tu to congratulate her.
             "It's an overdue honor for Tu and the world's recognition of TCM," he said.
             Tu was honored for her work in isolating the active ingredient from the plant Artemisia apiacea Hance that protects against the malaria parasite and developing an extraction method for its therapeutic use.
             "It was inspired by the ancient TCM classic Manual of Clinical Practice and Emergency Remedies by TCM master Ge Hong of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317- 340)," Cao said.
             The book says coldly squeezed southernwood juice could treat malaria.
             Her great findings spearheaded the exploration for the modernization of TCM as well, he added.
             In 1969, Tu started to chair a government project aimed at eradicating malaria.
             "The task I took on was to conduct research for a new drug from traditional Chinese herbal medicine to treat malaria. Back then, we needed a totally new structured antimalarial to deal with resistance to the existing drugs. So with that background, I accepted the task assigned by the government," Tu said in an earlier report by China Radio International.
             Tu and her colleagues experimented with 380 extracts in 2,000 candidate recipes before they finally succeeded in obtaining the pure substance qinghaosu, later known as artemisinin, which became the standard regimen for malaria in the World Health Organization's catalog of essential medicines.
             "Your discovery of artemisinin not only explored a new research direction for the treatment of malaria - which has significant scientific meaning - it also directly benefited tens of thousands of people. Your winning the Nobel Prize is the pride of the whole Chinese science community, which will inspire more Chinese scientists," said Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a congratulatory letter sent to Tu on Monday night.
             In 2011, Tu was awarded the Lasker Debakey Clinical Medical Research Award, commonly referred to as "America's Nobel Prize".
             Known as a herald of the Nobel, many expected Tu to win the Noble that year.
             "The prize finally came," Cao said, "more than 40 years after her findings. But back then, China was not as open as it is today and she had no opportunities to publish her findings in international science journals."
             "Tu's breakthrough in winning the Nobel Prize in a natural science is the pride of the whole nation and the whole Chinese scientific community," said Zhou Dejin, spokesman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China's national research body that comprises of more than one hundred research institutes, universities and research branches.
             "The achievement of discovering artemisinin was made in 1970s, but it only received International recognition in later years, which suggests that we might have more achievements that have reached the Nobel Prize level that have not been recognized," Zhou said.
             One example he gave was the synthesis of crystalline bovine insulin, which was developed by Chinese scientists in the 1960s.
             New discoveries such as neutrino oscillation and nano energy are all believed to be promising contenders.
             "The modern sciences originated in the Western countries, but Chinese scientists have been exploring with great efforts since we opened our door to the outside world in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Although some of our achievements have not been recognized by the Nobel Assembly, we do not feel that we are really that far behind," Zhou said.
             "Now we have Tu winning the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, we should be more confident that Chinese scientists will make more high-level breakthroughs in the future," he said.
             Besides Tu, China also has other promising Nobel Prize candidates inspired by TCM according to Cao.
             Chinese scientists Wang Zhenyi and Chen Zhu integrated the use of arsenic trioxide with Western approaches for treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia, which dramatically improves the patients' survival rate.

             China Daily 2015-10-06

             Tu Youyou’s Nobel Prize Award Brings More Confidence and Introspection to Chinese

             Chinese scientist Tu Youyou on October 5 won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine amongst a trio for discovering parasite therapies. Together, the three scientists found "therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases". 85-year-old Tu is awarded this world-renowned prize for her contribution to reducing the death rate of malaria, minimizing patients' suffering and promoting mankind's health. This is what science is all about.
             Tu's name "Youyou", or "Yuyu", came from the Classic of Poetry, the oldest existing collection of Chinese songs and odes. The characters depict the cheerful sounds deer make when calling for mates. Tu has spent 40 years' time on scientific research. Although the Nobel Prize did not come to her until four decades later, it is definitely the most privilege reward that recognizes Tu's dedication and perseverance in discovering artemisinin.
             Tu's finding has saved millions' lives during the 40 years. This also proves the value of her research product. The reward is never too late in that aspect. The moment of joy and satisfaction when she discovered the artemisinin after all kinds of failures in experiments is eternal.
             Tu has won some attention when she got the Lasker Award in 2011. But there is no way to compare her popularity back to the attention she is receiving today. As the first Chinese mainland Nobel Prize Winner of natural science award, Tu's winning completely surprised Chinese people, who have long been wondering when the first Chinese Nobel Laureate in natural science would appear.
             Tu is an alumni of Peking University. She studied at the Peking University Health Science Center, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, from 1951 to 1955. Not only is Tu the first Chinese Nobel Laureate in natural science, she is the first Nobel Laureate who received all scientific trainings in China. The award she won made Chinese scientists gain tremendous confidence.
             Let's backtrack to 40 years ago. Tu accomplished the breakthrough findings without access to any advanced equipment, communication with outside world and papers to research. However, over the 40 years, improvements and innovations have transformed everything. Nowadays, Chinese scientists have the passion to invent. As Premiere Li Keqiang mentioned in his letter, "Tu's winning the prize signifies China's prosperity and progress in scientific and technological field".
             Evidently, Chinese scientific research has been playing a leading role in the world. And one can be sure that there is going to be a second or third "Tu" coming.
             Tu's winning will help people come to realize that all those international publications and journals, whether it is the Nobel Prize, SCI publishing, Nature, or Science, are all just gimmicks of measuring tools. There's no need to improperly belittle oneself. The sole key is to be oneself and try one's best with confidence. There had been doubts about "whether there would be a Chinese national awarded the Nobel Prize." This sort of doubts is unnecessary. The scientific awards are equal to all, as long as the research findings are good enough.
             Tu's record-breaking winning serves as a reminder to those who are too eager for instant success. Science is never about instant success. There is no way to measure how much you spend on scientific research and compare it with how much reward you get.
             Some may question about Tu's lacking a doctoral degree, international experience, and a title as academician of the Chinese academy. Tu's experience is unique. It is hard to predict whether the next Chinese Nobel Laureate may have any of these backgrounds. There's no need to tag a scientist and to look at the whole scientific community through these kinds of tags.
             The fact that Tu has none of these three backgrounds also reminds us that science should be more accessible to all. One shall be able to become a scientist no matter what kind of background he or she comes from, as long as one devotes into scientific research. There have been discussions on people who really love science are never aiming the awards. They might not achieve much during their whole lives. But their contributions are infinite. They work so hard to prove the wrong way so that the future researcher will be closer to the right one.
             For Chinese scientists, a more diverse and flexible measurement and awarding system are needed. A lot of Japanese Nobel Laureates came from companies and independent institutions. In the U.S., companies such as Microsoft hire a lot of talented scientists for their researches. In a recent reform regulation jointly passed and distributed by General Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China and General Office of the Communist Party of China, decisions have already been made on transforming the current measuring system from research product quantity to its quality and how innovative the product is. Any real contribution the research has made to the society is also counted. This kind of regulation will allow more space and time for Chinese scientists to devote into their researches.
             Artemisinin and science saved lived around the world. Tu saved the confidence of Chinese scientists, who will care less about whether a Chinese scientist be awarded the Nobel Prize in the future.
             William Campbell, Satoshi Omura and Tu Youyou jointly won the 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine for their work against parasitic diseases.

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