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PKU alumna Tu Youyou wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015

OCT . 06 2015
Peking University, Oct. 5, 2015: Tu Youyou, William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura have been jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on parasitic diseases. PKU alumna Tu Youyou was awarded for the discovery of artemisinin, an antimalarial drug that has saved millions of lives across the world.
Tu is the first female Chinese national to win the Nobel Prize in science, and has previously been awarded the Lasker-DeBakey Award, another prestigious award in medical science.
Tu entered Peking University in 1951, and studied at the Department of Pharmacology. In 1969, Tu was appointed as the head of Project 523, an operation set up to fight against chloroquine-resistant malaria. At the time, China was facing a lot of difficulties and not favorable for scientific research: few scientific papers were published and research funding suffered cutbacks. Tu and her colleagues went through great difficulties in discoveryof this drug. They combed through ancient literature of Chinese remedies to collect more than 2000 formulations. Careful study led to theselection of over 200 herbs as candidates, from which 380 extracts were made and assessed for their effect against malaria.
The extract from Qinghao (sweet wormwood, or Aremisiaannua) offered promising results, but their troubles did not end there. The yield of the active ingredients was so low that the scientists could not achieve reproducible results. As a result, Tu decided to redesign the extraction method. She turned to ancient books, which presented numerous differing accounts on the appropriate use of the herb: some said to boil the herb, while others indicated to soak the herb in water. In the end, Tu was inspired by a 2000-year-old document called "52 Prescriptions", and realized that low temperature was a key factor of the extraction process. In 1971, Tu and her team proposed a new extraction method using ether as the solvent. This new process dramatically increased the yield, making it possible to identify the structure of artemisinin.
The discovery of artemisinin was a huge success. However, Tu keeps a low profile and leads an ordinary life. She works from a humble officesituated in an old apartment building in Beijing. She once toldaspiring scientists in China: the aim of scientific research is to attain truth; it is not for fame or money.

Artemisinin-based therapy is now the standard treatment for malaria. Each year, several hundred million people benefit from Tu’s

Background Info:

Tu Youyou was born in China in 1930 and is a Chinese citizen. She graduated from the Pharmacy Department at Beijing Medical University in 1955.From 1965-1978 she served asAssistant Professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, rising through the ranks to attain her professorship in 1985.Since 2000, Tu has been chief Professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 was divided, one half jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi ōmura "for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites" and the other half to Youyou Tu "for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria".


Written by: Li Yike

Edited by: Zhang Jiang & Liao Candice