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Tu Youyou, controversial 'Mother of Artemisinin'

2011-10-10 13:41    Ecns.cn     Web Editor: Su Jie
Tu Youyou, together with her team, successfully extracted artemisinin from the herb sweet wormwood, or qinghao as it is known in China.

Tu Youyou, together with her team, successfully extracted artemisinin from the herb sweet wormwood, or qinghao as it is known in China.

(Ecns.cn)--In September, 81-year-old Tu Youyou, a researcher at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, won the Albert Lasker Award for discovering artemisinin (qinghaosu)a drug therapy for malaria, which, according to the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, has saved millions of lives across the globe, especially in developing countries.

Tu is the first Chinese to receive such a prestigious award. She, together with her team, successfully extracted artemisinin from the herb sweet wormwood, or qinghao as it is known in China.

Now, the artemisia-based drug has become a standard treatment for malaria, with a cure rate of 97%.

"Not often in the history of clinical medicine can we celebrate a discovery that has eased the pain and distress of hundreds of millions of people and saved the lives of countless numbers of people, particularly children, in over 100 countries," said Lucy Shapiro, a member of the award jury and professor at Stanford University,while describing Tu's discovery.

In the 1960s, in response to the global dilemma of drug resistant malaria, the Chinese government launched a cohesive initiative to find a cure for the disease.

"The task I took was to search for a new drug from traditional Chinese herbal medicine to fight against malaria. We needed a totally new structured antimalarial to deal with drug resistance," said Tu during an interview with the Lasker Foundation.

"To start with I began to search the ancient medical books, the Compendium of Material Medica, folk formulary and so on. I visited and interviewed many experienced doctors, including those in southern China," added Tu.

After combing through the ancient tests of traditional medicine and folk remedies, Tu collected 2,000 potential recipes, and finally focused on 380 extracts from 200 herbs.

Inspired by an ancient medical book, Tu noticed that the extract from sweet wormwood showed promise in studies on mice.