This year’s Nobel Laureates have developed therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of a few of the most devastating parasitic diseases.
Tu shared the prize with the Irish-born William Campbell and Japan’s Satoshi Omura for her discoveries in finding new ways to treat malaria, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute announced Monday.
Tu was recognized with a Nobel prize today for rediscovering artemisinin, a plant derivative that has significantly reduced death rates from malaria. In a statement, the Nobel Prize committee called the impact of the drug “immeasurable”, saying it helped millions suffering from diseases like river blindness.
River blindness is an eye and skin disease that ultimately leads to blindness.
Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a painful and extremely disfiguring disease, the World Health Organization said.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that still kills around 500,000 people a year, mostly in Africa, despite efforts to control it. He worked for decades at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research before moving to Drew University in Madison, N.J., as part of a program where retired industrial scientists direct research of individual undergraduates. Since 2007, Satoshi Ōmura has been Professor Emeritus at Kitasato University. She is the first ever Nobel laureate in medicine from China.
“First thing I did was to ask for a way to verify that this could be genuine because it just seemed impossible”, he said, adding that he only believed it after checking the Nobel website. Omura said that he has learned a lot from microorganisms and so he would like to dedicate his prize to microorganisms.
Working in Japan, Omura isolated novel strains of Streptomyces bacteria from soil samples that not only had antibacterial components, but also had the potential to combat other harmful microorganisms.
Omura and Campbell made their breakthrough in fighting parasitic worms, or helminths, after studying compounds from soil bacteria. He showed that avermitilis was very effective at killing the parasites in farm and domestic animals. She screened many herbal remedies for malaria in animals, and found one, a compound found in the sweet wormwood plant (Artemisia annua), that seemed promising. In combination with other anti-malarial therapies, Artemisinin saves an estimated 100,000 lives per year in Africa.
Bad news for Malaria and Parasite-based diseases!
Dr Colin Sutherland, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was immensely gratifying that the achievements in tackling these important diseases had been recognised.
“We now have drugs that kill these parasites very early in their life-cycle”, said Juleen Zierath, chair of the Nobel Committee.
Still, artemisinin resistance has already been confirmed in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. “This also is an acknowledgement to the traditional Chinese medicine, for the work began with herbal medicine”.
Tu is the 13th woman to win this Nobel Prize.
Tu was praised for her research concerning a novel therapy against malaria and became only the 12th female recipient of a Nobel medicine prize to date.
Campbell is planning on traveling to Stockholm on December 10 for the award ceremony.