Tu Youyou

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Ancient tradition and modern science, united to combat malaria

Tu Youyou is a medical doctor and pharmaceutical chemist, born in China in 1930.

She was a woman ahead of her time, who knew how to converge traditional Chinese remedies with modern science and apply them to the cure of diseases.

Malaria was a disease that was affecting large number of soldiers of North Vietnam in its war against the South. After having studied traditional Chinese remedies during the later years of her career, Tu Youyou had a lot of knowledge about how plants could cure all kinds of ailments. Thus, she began analysing a series of medicinal plants in search of an active ingredient that could stop malaria.

Finally she found it in Artemisia annua, known commonly as wormwood. From this plant she obtained artemisinin and, after conducting a series of trials, she found that it killed the parasites with surprising ease.

The discovery is the most important breakthrough in tropical medicine in the twentieth century, related to the improvement of health in people living in tropical developing countries in South Asia, Africa and South America.

Despite the relevance of her findings to medicine, Tu Youyou had to wait fifty years for recognition, with the award of the Nobel Prize in 2015.

Since 1965 she has worked at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which she is now scientific director.

«In French you don´t say I miss you. You say “tu me manques”, which means “you are missing from me”. I love that.»