Tu Youyou (Chinese: 屠呦呦; born 30 December 1930) is a Chinese 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 jointly with William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura. Tu is the first Chinese Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine and the first female citizen of the People’s Republic of China to receive a Nobel Prize in any category, as well as the first Chinese person to receive the Lasker Award. She was born and educated and carried out research exclusively in 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.

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 / Beijing Medical College. 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.

After graduation, Tu worked at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (now the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences) in Beijing. She was promoted to a Researcher (研究员, the highest researcher rank in mainland China equivalent to the academic rank of a full professor) in 1980 shortly after the Chinese economic reform began in 1978. In 2001 she was promoted to academic advisor for doctoral candidates. Currently she is the Chief Scientist in the Academy.

As of 2007, her office is in an old apartment building in Dongcheng District, Beijing.

Before 2011, Tu had been obscure for decades, and is described as “almost completely forgotten by people”.

Wikipedia

 

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