On October 5th, Chinese medicinal scientist Tu Youyou was awarded a share of the world’s most prestigious award in medicine, the Nobel Prize, for her discovery of artemisinin. The first female Chinese citizen to receive a Nobel Prize, Tu researches traditional medicine, a field not commonly studied by many scientists.
Hailed as the most effective drug for treating Plasmodium falciparum malaria, artemisinin is an active component of the plant Artemisia annua. While scientists screened over 240,000 synthetic compounds with little success, Tu combed through ancient Chinese texts for a potential cure for malaria and eventually stumbled upon A. annua and its antimalarial application in Ge Hong’s 4th century “The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies”. Following the instructions of steeping A. annua in cold water and wringing it for its juice, Tu and her team isolated a useful extract that laid the foundation for purified artemisinin and its synthetic derivatives. Tu’s life’s work has saved millions of those affected by malaria, especially those in developing nations. The recognition of Tu’s accomplishment is significant because it highlights the untapped value that traditional Chinese knowledge can offer to the modern scientific world.
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