Scientists Discover New Ways to Kill Parasites; Win Nobel Prize

Nobel Prize

Image Courtesy of Fredrik Sandberg / TT

Three scientists across three different countries have recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in the field of medicine for discovering drugs that can fight against malaria and other parasitic diseases.

The Nobel Judges awarded the prestigious prize to three scientists: William Campbell from Ireland, Tu Youyou from China, and Satoshi Omura from Japan. The landmark discoveries are an important breakthrough in the field of medicine, and can potentially save the lives of hundreds of millions worldwide.

Making a Difference

The committee, discussing the scientists’ breakthrough said that the discoveries “have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually.” They add that, “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immensurable.”

Campbell and Omura discovered avermectin, and worked further with its derivatives that help lower the incidence of lymphatic filariasis and river blindness which are commonly caused by parasitic roundworms. Parasitic worms affect a third of the world’s population, particularly in Asia and Africa.

Tu, on the other hand, discovered artemisinin, a drug that has considerably reduced mortality rates of people suffering from malaria. The mosquito-borne diseases kills more than 450,000 people each around the world. With the new drug, however, this number will hopefully be reduced.

Leveling the Field

Campbell

Image Courtesy of REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The two discoveries are a game changer in the world of medicine. After decades of limited progress, the two new drugs have the potential to decrease mortality rates from these deadly diseases considerably.

Tu, who had started looking at traditional herbal medicine to find therapy, took an extract from the plant Artemisia annua, commonly known as sweet wormwood and discovered that the component, artemisinin, was highly effective at killing malaria parasites.

Omura, on the other hand, focused on studying microbes in soil samples, looking for promising candidates that might work as a weapon against diseases; particularly those from parasitic worms. Campbell, an expert in parasite biology, explored these further and found one that was highly effective against the parasites.

Their discoveries are now being used in medicines and treatments worldwide. Artemisinin is used around the world in combination with other malaria medicines, and in Africa alone, now saves more than 100,000 lives every year. Ivermectin, on the other hand, is now used to treat river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

The winners will share the Eight Million Swedish Kronor Prize (around $960,000), with one half going to Omura and Campbell, and the other to Tu. They will also receive a diploma and a gold medal at the annual award ceremony on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death.