tu_postcardIll. N. Elmehed. © Nobel Media AB 2015.

Youyou Tu

Born: 1930, Zhejiang Ningpo, China

Affiliation at the time of the award: China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing, China

Prize motivation: “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”

Prize share: 1/2

Dr. Tu, born in 1930, is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel science award. The Nobel Committee emphasized that it was not giving the award to traditional Chinese medicine but to a scientist who, inspired by it, went on to use sophisticated research methods to find a new therapy for malaria. The discovery came at a time when the parasites became resistant to more traditional drugs like quinine and chloroquine and as the number of infections surged.

Dr. Tu screened many herbal remedies in malaria-infected animals and extracted a promising agent from Artemisia annua. Because of inconsistencies in test results, she turned to ancient texts and discovered clues to identify and extract the active component of the Artemisia herb. In ancient times, people soaked the herb in water and boiled it. She realized that boiling could destroy the active ingredient and used other techniques to isolate it.

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“Tu was the first to show that this component, later called Artemisinin, was highly effective against the malaria parasite, both in infected animals and humans,” the Nobel Committee said. Artemisinin combined with other anti-malarial drugs is part of standard regimens used in malaria-infected areas.