Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Chinese scientist Tu Youyou " signifies China's prosperity and progress in scientific and technological field, marks a great contribution of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to the cause of human health, and showcases China's growing strengths and rising international standing. " Writes Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in a congratulatory message sent to the scientist.
The Swedish Karolinska Institute yesterday announced the woman as winner of the prestigious award, the first Chinese woman to receive a Nobel Prize in science, for her study of traditional Chinese herbs for malaria treatment. She recieves the award in conjunction with the Irishman William Campbell and Japanese Satoshi Omura.
In the text, the Chinese premier praises " Chinese scientists, including medical researchers, for their long-term, dedicated work and numerous achievements. I encourage you to implement the national strategy of an innovation-driven economy, and to seek greater progress in the most advanced scientific and technological projects. "
Born in 1930, Tu discovered Artemisinin, a drug that appreciably reduces the mortality rate of those suffering from malaria: "Hercontribution is amazing - explains Juleen R. Zierath, President of the Commission in charge of assigning the Nobel - It is driven by traditional medicine and has identified the active agent in the sagebrush that then led to the drug. "
The discovery was not, however, an easy story. In fact, it took 13 years for Tu’s research team to achieve the result. In the years 1965-1979, in fact, China was battered by the Cultural Revolution: knowledge was described as "superfluous" and intellectuals were humiliated in public. Similarly, the scientists were viewed with suspicion.
The group that discovered the Artemisinin - known as "Project 523" - was composed of approximately 500 researchers scattered in 60 institutions. None of them benefited in any way from the discovery, made possible in those turbulent years only thanks to the direct concern of Premier Zhou Enlai. Tu was never invited to join the Academy of Social Sciences of China, an exclusion that she herself has described as "the biggest regret of my life."
Li Guoqiao, from the Medical University of Guangzhou, carried out the chemical trial in 1974 which confirmed the drug’s efficacy: "Our project was the only scientific project that managed to advance during the Cultural Revolution, a part from the one known as 'two bombs and one satellite'. We worked hard because we knew that it was emergency material greatly needed for the war [against Vietnam ed]. "
Campbell and Omura have instead won the prize "for the development of therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating diseases linked to parasites, providing humanity powerful new means to fight these infections."