This year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine has been shared between three scientists for their work helping to combat parasitic diseases.
William Campbell, a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in the US, and Satoshi Ōmura, a professor emeritus at Kitasato University in Japan, were honoured for developing new treatments against infections caused by roundworm parasites.
Youyou Tu, chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, shares the prize for developing an anti-malarial drug after exploring a traditional Chinese remedy found in ancient texts. She is the first Chinese winner of a scientific Nobel prize for work carried out in China.
The three scientists are credited with discoveries that have improved the quality of life of millions across the world and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Professor Ōmura managed to isolate types of bacteria from the many thousands that live in soil to find the most promising for countering harmful microorganisms. Dr Campbell, who was born in Ireland but pursued his scientific career in the US, then looked at the cultures Professor Ōmura had isolated and found that a component from one of them was very effective against parasites in animals.
It was later developed into a component called ivermectin, which can kill parasitic larvae in humans and has all but eradicated debilitating parasitic diseases such as River Blindness.
Drawing on ancient Chinese medical literature, Professor Tu successfully managed to extract the active component from the plant Artemisia annua, which proved to be effective against malaria parasites at the early stage of their development in humans and animals. The compound, artemisinin, is used across the world to combat malaria and is estimated to save more than 100,000 lives a year in Africa alone.
The Nobel Prize for Medicine is the first to be announced this year. The winner of the physics prize will be revealed tomorrow.