Prestigious American Medical Prize Honors Discovery of Malarial Drug by a Chinese Scientist from Traditional Herbal Medicine



On September 12, 2011 the New York Times published a report by Anahad O'Connor entitled "Lasker Honors for a Lifesaver." Excerpts from the article:


The Lasker Awards, announced on Monday by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, carry a $250,000 prize per category and are widely considered the nation’s most prestigious medical awards.

Besides Dr. Arthur L. Horwich and Dr. Franz-Ulrich Hartl, who won the award for basic medical research for their discoveries about protein folding, the foundation is honoring an 81-year-old Chinese scientist for her work on turning an herbal medicine into a widely used antimalarial drug.


The scientist is Dr. Tu Youyou, and the antimalarial drug is artemisinin, which was discovered decades ago.

Dr. Tu and her colleagues began their work in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, when the Chinese government began a project to find a new malaria drug that could replace the standard treatment, chloroquine, which was losing effectiveness as malaria parasites developed resistance.


They scoured the literature on ancient Chinese remedies and collected 380 extracts from 200 herbs that offered promise. One of the plants they studied was sweet wormwood, or Artemisia annua, which was used by Chinese herbalists centuries ago to treat fever.


Dr. Tu and her team discovered a way to extract an active substance from the plant, removed a toxic portion of it, and demonstrated that it wiped out the malaria-causing parasite in animals. The resulting drug, artemisinin, was later shown to cure malaria in humans.


Today, artemisinin and its derivatives are typically coupled with other treatments to combat malaria, and the World Health Organization recommends this combination therapy as the “first-line treatment” against the disease.


“It is clear that Tu’s insight and vision have saved millions of lives, particularly in the developing world, and continues to yield long-term medical benefits in the ongoing fight against this deadly disease,” the foundation said. [read more]

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