Tu Youyou (right) and her teacher Lou Zhicen（楼之岑） (left) in 1951
30 December 1930 |
Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
|Institutions||China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine|
|Alma mater||Peking University Medical School / Beijing Medical College (now Peking University Health Science Center)|
|Known for||Traditional Chinese medicine
|Notable awards||Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research (2011)
Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (2015)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2015)
Tu Youyou (Chinese: 屠呦呦; born 30 December 1930) is a Chinese medical scientist, pharmaceutical chemist, and educator. She is best known for discovering artemisinin (also known as qinghaosu) and dihydroartemisinin, used to treat malaria, which saved millions of lives. Her discovery of artemisinin and its treatment of malaria is regarded as a significant breakthrough of tropical medicine in the 20th century and health improvement for people of tropical developing countries in South Asia, Africa, and South America. For her work, Tu received the 2011 Lasker Award in clinical medicine and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Tu is the first native Chinese in history to receive the Nobel Prize in natural sciences and the Lasker Award as Tu was educated carried out her medical and scientific work in China.
Tu carried on her work in the 1960s and 70s during China's Cultural Revolution, when scientists were denigrated as one of the nine black categories in society according to Maoist theory (or possibly that of the Gang of Four).
In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, which was at war against South Vietnam and the United States, asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai for help in developing a malaria treatment for his soldiers trooping down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, where a majority came down with a form of malaria which is resistant to chloroquine.
As malaria was also a major cause of death in China's southern provinces including Hainan, Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong, Zhou Enlai convinced Mao Zedong to set up a secret drug discovery project, named Project 523 after its starting date, 23 May 1967. Upon joining the project unit, Tu was initially sent to Hainan where she studied patients who had been infected with the disease. During the time she spent there, her husband was banished to the countryside, meaning that her daughter had to be entrusted to a nursery in Beijing.
Scientists worldwide had screened over 240,000 compounds without success. In 1969, Tu, then 39 years old, had an idea of screening Chinese herbs. She first investigated the Chinese medical classics in history, visiting practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine all over the country on her own. She gathered her findings in a notebook called A Collection of Single Practical Prescriptions for Anti-Malaria. Her notebook summarized 640 prescriptions. Her team also screened over 2,000 traditional Chinese recipes and made 380 herbal extracts, which were tested on mice.
One compound was effective, sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua), which was used for "intermittent fevers," a hallmark of malaria. As Tu also presented at the project seminar, its preparation was described in a 1,600-year-old text, in a recipe titled, "Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One's Sleeve." At first, it didn't work, because they extracted it with traditional boiling water. Tu Youyou discovered that a low-temperature extraction process could be used to isolate an effective antimalarial substance from the plant; Tu says she was influenced by a traditional Chinese herbal medicine source, The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatments, written in 340 by Ge Hong, which states that this herb should be steeped in cold water. This book contained the useful reference to the herb: "A handful of qinghao immersed with two litres of water, wring out the juice and drink it all." After rereading the recipe, Tu realised the hot water had already damaged the active ingredient in the plant; therefore she proposed a method using low-temperature ether to extract the effective compound instead. The animal tests showed it was completely effective in mice and monkeys.
Furthermore, Tu volunteered to be the first human subject. "As head of this research group, I had the responsibility" she said. It was safe, so she conducted successful clinical trials with human patients. Her work was published anonymously in 1977. In 1981, she presented the findings relating to artemisinin at a meeting with the World Health Organization.
Tu was born in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China on 30 December 1930. She attended Xiaoshi Middle School for junior high school and the first year of high school, before transferring to Ningbo Middle School in 1948. From 1951 to 1955, she attended Peking University Medical School (In 1952, the Medical School became independent as Beijing Medical College, later renamed Beijing Medical University in 1985. On 3 April 2000, Beijing Medical University was merged with Peking University and is now known as Peking University Health Science Center). Tu studied at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and graduated in 1955. Later Tu was trained for two and a half years in traditional Chinese medicine.
Tu worked at the Academy of Chinese Medicine (now named as China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences) in Beijing after graduation. She was promoted to a researcher in 1980 only after the Chinese economic reform, and in 2001 promoted to academic advisor for doctorate candidates. Currently she is the Chief Scientist in the Academy.
Before 2011, Tu had been obscure for decades, and is described as "almost completely forgotten by people".
Tu is regarded as the Professor of Three Nos – no postgraduate degree (there was no postgraduate education then in China), no study or research experience abroad, and not a member of any Chinese national academies, i.e. Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. Up until 1979, there were no postgraduate degree programs in China, and China was largely isolated from the rest of the world. Tu is now regarded as a representative figure of the first generation Chinese medical workers since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Tu and her husband, Li Tingzhao (李廷钊), live in Beijing. Li Tingzhao was Tu's classmate in Xiaoshi Middle School and studied within the Soviet Union. Her younger daughter also lives in Beijing. Her older daughter is working in Cambridge University.
During her early years, Tu studied Lobelia chinensis, a traditional Chinese medicine, for curing schistosomiasis, caused by parasitic worms which infect the urinary tract or the intestines, which was widespread in the first half of the 20th century in South China.
Tu started her malaria research in China when the Cultural Revolution was in progress. In early 1969, Tu was appointed head of the project, named Project 523 research group at her institute. She collected 2000 candidate recipes, ancient texts, and folk remedies for possible leads for her research. By 1971, her team had made 380 extracts from 200 herbs, and discovered the extracts from qinghao (Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood) looked particularly promising in dramatically inhibiting Plasmodium growth in animals. Tu found the way to extract it and her innovations boosted potency and slashed toxicity of this extract. In 1972, she and her colleagues obtained the pure substance and named it qinghaosu (青蒿素), or artemisinin as it is commonly called in the west, which has saved millions of lives, especially in the developing world. Tu also studied the chemical structure and pharmacology of artemisinin. Tu's group first determined the chemical structure of artemisinin. In 1973, Tu wanted to confirm the carbonyl group in the artemisinin molecule, therefore she accidentally synthesized dihydroartemisinin. For her work, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine on 5 October 2015.
- 1978, National Science Congress Prize, P.R. China
- 1979, National Inventor's Prize, P.R. China
- 1987, Albert Einstein World Science Prize, World Culture Council
- 1992, (One of the) Ten Science and Technology Achievements in China, State Science Commission, P.R. China
- 1997, (One of the) Ten Great Public Health Achievements in New China, P.R. China
- September 2011, GlaxoSmithKline Outstanding Achievement Award in Life Science
- September 2011, Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research
- November 2011, Outstanding Contribution Award, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences
- February 2012, (One of the Ten) National Outstanding Females, P.R. China
- June 2015, Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (co-recipient)
- October 2015, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 (co-recipient) for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria, awarded with one half of this prize; and William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura jointly awarded with another half for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.
- Miller, Louis H.; Su, Xinzhuan (2011). "Artemisinin: Discovery from the Chinese Herbal Garden". Cell 146 (6): 855–8. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2011.08.024. PMC 3414217. PMID 21907397.
- The modest woman who beat malaria for China, by Phil McKenna, New Scientist, 15 November 2011
- Tom Phillips (October 6, 2015). "Tu Youyou: how Mao’s challenge to malaria pioneer led to Nobel prize". The Guardian.
- "Lasker Award Rekindles Debate Over Artemisinin's Discovery | Science/AAAS | News". News.sciencemag.org. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
- Miller L.H. and Su X. (16 September 2011). "Artemisinin: discovery from the Chinese herbal garden". Cell (CAMBRIDGE, MA 02139, USA: Cell Press) 146 (6): 855–858. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2011.08.024. ISSN 0092-8674. PMC 3414217. PMID 21907397.
- Jeff Guo (October 6, 2015). "How a secret Chinese military drug based on an ancient herb won the Nobel Prize". Washington Post.
- Youyou Tu (11 October 2011). "The discovery of artemisinin (qinghaosu) and gifts from Chinese medicine". Nature. doi:10.1038/nm.2471
- "Magic Drug Saved Half Billion People" (in Chinese). Phoenix Television News, Hong Kong. 16 March 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
- "Introduction". Peking University Health Science Center. 27 October 2010. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
- "Official Biography" (in Chinese). China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
- 屠呦呦膺世界級醫學大獎 (in Chinese). Hong Kong Wen Wei Po. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
- Luxiao Zou (October 6, 2015). "Chinese Scientist Wins Nobel Prize in Medicine; China Hails the Laureate with Reflection". People's Daily.
- 屠呦呦获拉斯克奖 评论认为离诺奖只一步之遥 (in Chinese). Sohu News. 13 September 2011. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
- 屠呦呦：新中国第一代药学家 研发青蒿素 (in Chinese). Sohu News. 29 September 2009. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
- "zh:同学们眼中的“三无教授”：屠呦呦". Sina.com. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
- Strauss, Evelyn (September 2011). "Award Description". Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. New York, NY 10017 USA: LASKER FOUNDATION.
- Geoff Brown (2010). "Special Issue Artemisinin (Qinghaosu): Commemorative Issue in Honor of Professor Youyou Tu on the Occasion of her 80th Anniversary". Molecules. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
- Tu, Youyou. "Acceptance remarks by Tu Youyou". Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. New York, NY 10017 USA: LASKER FOUNDATION.
Equipped with a sound knowledge in both traditional Chinese medicine and modern pharmaceutical sciences, my team inherited and developed the essence of traditional Chinese medicine using modern science and technology and eventually, we successfully accomplished the discovery and development of qinghaosu from qinghao (Artemisia annua L).
- Elizabeth Weise (12 September 2011). "'America's Nobel' awarded to Chinese scientist". USA Today. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
- "Tu Youyou 屠呦呦". China Vitae. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- "Chen Zhili Congratulates Lasker Award Winner Tu Youyou". Women of China. 22 September 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- "Tu Youyou". Lasker Foundation. 12 September 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2011.
- "Tu is awarded Outstanding Contribution Award by CACMR" (in Chinese). Xinhua News Agency. 15 November 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- 吴菊萍屠呦呦获授三八红旗手标兵 (in Chinese). Sina.com News. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
- Alpert Prize Recognizes Malaria Breakthroughs. Warren Alpert Foundation. 4 June 2015. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
- "Nobel Prize announcement" (PDF). NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
- Media related to Tu Youyou at Wikimedia Commons