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Congratulations to Youyou Tu!


Earlier today it was announced that Youyou Tu is awarded one half of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, shared together with two other scientists. The citation for her award is "for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria". She is the first Chinese citizen (and maybe more significantly, a Chinese woman) to win a Nobel prize in Science , finally!

The research that is at the center of her award is the drug known as Artemisinin (青蒿素 in Chinese), which is widely used for treatments of malaria. The contribution Youyou made is that she found the "right" way to extract Artemisinin from sweet wormwood, an herb employed in Chinese traditional medicine. It is well known before Youyou Tu, that Artemisinin can be isolated from the plant, however, the extract wasn't very effective against the disease. To solve this problem (which was a national priority that time, see Project 523), Youyou Tu turned to a ancient recipe by Ge Hong (葛洪, 340 AD, "肘后备急方"), which hints that the extraction should be done at room temperature, instead of commonly practiced at boiling temperature (青蒿一握 ,以水两升渍,绞取汁,尽服之). This new "juice" made from cold extration turned out to be killing 100% malaria parasites in infected mice and monkeys (recipe matters!). It was also said Youyou Tu herself was the first one to take the human trial.

Her personal story is also quite extrordinary. She is considered Prof. of three nos - no postgraduate degree (this is understandable considering there was no formal form of post-graduate training in China), no study or research experience abroad (which is very rare nowadays), and not a member of any Chinese national academies (yet, I am sure this fact will stir some discussions in China). Her husband was a ordinary factory worker which she knew from school. Very humble person, and a good example for our young Chinese researchers to follow.

One more trivia: her name in Chinese (屠呦呦), is given by her father, from a poem collected in the Classic of Poetry, (诗经-小雅-鹿鸣), reading "呦呦鹿鸣,食野之蒿". It was describing the scene of deers enjoying themselves with herbs, which might well be Artemisia annua...


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