Tu Youyou is a pharmaceutical chemist and malariologist who was born and raised in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China. She shares the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her work in finding a cure for malaria, which is used by millions of people the world over.
In 1969, at 39 years old, Youyou left her two young children with family and set out on a secret mission to the rainforests of China’s Hainan Island. Chairman Mao had received an urgent plea from a key ally, North Vietnam, to tackle the malaria epidemic tearing through its army. Tu was one of the scientists chosen to research a similar outbreak on Hainan and find a cure.
Malaria is caused by a single-cell parasite that causes a deadly fever. Traditional Chinese medicine uses sweet wormwood to treat fever. During her mission in 1972, and armed with her knowledge of traditional herbal medicines, Youyou managed to extract a substance, artemisinin, which inhibits the malaria parasite.
She had to wait until 1981 for the international community to read an English version and pay attention to the breakthrough and until 2001 for the World Health Organisation to expressly recommend artemisinin as the main treatment for malaria.
In 2015 and at 84 years old, Youyou was recognised for her groundbreaking efforts and won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria.”
Young Youyou studied at the Peking University in Beijing. Since 1965 she has worked at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where she is now Chief Scientist.Tags: china, Malaria, Nobel Prize, Women in Science