Nobel Prize goes to modest woman who beat malaria for China

Updated 5 October 2015
(originally published
9 November 2011)

The origins of our best drug against malaria have long been a mystery.
Meet Tu Youyou, who scoured ancient Chinese medical texts for the cure.

Tu Youyou, now 80, continues to study artemisinin at her lab in Beijing

Tu Youyou, now 80, continues to study Tu Youyou at her lab in BeijingSimon Griffiths

By Phil McKenna

Update: Tu Youyou has been awarded a share of the 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology for her discovery of artemisinin. She shared the prize with William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, whose work led to the development of ivermectin, an important treatment for roundworm parasite diseases.

FORTY years ago a secret military project in communist China yielded one of the greatest drug discoveries in modern medicine. Artemisinin remains the most effective treatment for malaria today and has saved millions of lives. Until recently, though, the drug’s origins were a mystery.

“I was at a meeting in Shanghai in 2005 with all of the Chinese malariologists and I asked who discovered artemisinin,” says Louis Miller, a malaria researcher at the US National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Maryland. “I was shocked that no one knew.”

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