Nobel Prize rewards unconventional medicine


The Nobel Prize Committee for Physiology or Medicine announced the winners of this year’s prestigious award.

The winners are William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura and Youyou Tu.

Campbell and Omura are Irish and Japanese scientists, respectively, and are known for their research work on fighting infections caused by roundworm parasites.

Campbell is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and is also a research fellow emeritus for Drew University.

Omura is a professor emeritus at Kitasato University, specializing in pharmaceutical development occurring from microorganisms.

Both have won numerous accolades from distinguished scientific institutions and world organizations.

Campbell and Omura were responsible for developing a new drug, Avermectin, to treat infection.

Campbell then modified this drug to create Ivermectin.

Ivermectin has been successful in nearly eradicating river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

The drug was first distributed to and used for clinical experimentation in developing countries in 1987.

River blindness is an infectious parasitic disease spread by the bites of black flies in fast-flowing rivers.

River blindness shares many of the same symptoms as lymphatic filariasis, such as swelling and abnormal enlargement of body parts.

Dr. Campbell was a parasitic biologist at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research when he crossed paths with Dr. Omura.

Campbell obtained samples of bacterial cultures selected by Dr. Omura, with one sample later turning out to be the source for Avermectin.

Campbell and Omura’s work pioneered the discovery of a new advanced class of drugs that displays extraordinary efficacy in combating the deadly disease responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Campbell and Omura will share half of the prize for their discoveries in treating diseases caused by roundworm parasites, while Dr.Tu won the other half for her contributions in fighting malaria.

Tu is the first Chinese Nobel laureate in Medicine. A scholar at the China Academy for Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tu discovered the anti-malarial drug, Artemisin, largely based on her prior training and expertise in traditional medicine.

Tu’s Nobel recognition is a culmination of a 45 year journey that began when Communist revolutionary, Mao Zedong, tasked the young scientist with the daunting challenge to find a solution to malaria, a disease which was decimating frontline troops in China’s border war with Vietnam.

Armed with her experiential knowledge and fieldwork in the jungles, and ancient Chinese manuscripts, she searched through 2,000 traditional remedies and finally found mention of a sweet wormwood used to treat malaria, which she extracted to develop artemisinin.

Her extracts were first tested to vaccinate mice against malaria, which proved to be 100 percent effective, and was later tested in humans.

Tu and her colleagues went so far as to drink the extracts to test for toxicity before finalizing the drug.

Traditional and alternative medicine were once criticized as unorthodox and derided as quackery, but has since become more commonly accepted in recent decades.

Brendan Pritikin ’18 acknowledges that more credit should be given to traditional medicine in its efficacy for treating diseases.

Pritikin expressed, “conventional medicine often ignores the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine because pharmaceutical companies want to make money.”

The Nobel Prize juror announced that while the prize does not reward traditional medicine, the awardees identified the compounds used to treat popular diseases within the traditional.

The awarding of the Nobel Prize for this approach demonstrates the potential of traditional medicine to inspire scientists in eveloping the next generation of pharmaceutical drugs for a number of persisting diseases.

These three preeminent scientists were chosen from 327 nominations.

The nominations will be kept secret for 50 years, in accordance with the conditions of Alfred Nobel’s will.

The three awardees share a common field of interest in parasitic therapy, and their recognition is a reflection of the groundbreaking nature of their work in revolutionizing medicine and physiology.


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