The Nobel Prize Assembly at
Karolinska Institutet has awarded the prestigious 2015 Nobel Prize in
Physiology or Medicine with one-half jointly to William C. Campbell and Satoshi
Omura and the other half to Youyou Tu.
While Campbell from Ireland and Omura
from Japan were honored for their novel therapy against infection caused by
roundworm parasites, Tu from China grabbed the half prize for her discoveries
concerning a novel therapy against malaria. According to the information from the Nobel
Prize Assembly, Campbell, Omura and Tu are currently affiliated with Drew
University, Madison, Kitasato University, Tokyo, and China Academy of
Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing respectively.
Campbell and Omura have developed
a new drug known as Avermectin
derivatives of the drug have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness
caused by infection with the parasitic worm Onchocerca
and Lymphatic Filariasis
caused by parasitic worms of the Filarioidea
type. The drug is also effective against an expanding number of other parasitic
Youyou Tu discovered Artemisinin,
a drug that has reduced the mortality rates of patients with malaria
, a mosquito-borne disease
that kills more than 4.5
lakh people each year worldwide.
The Nobel committee said that
these two groundbreaking researches on parasitic diseases have provided
humankind with powerful new means to fight these debilitating illnesses that
affect millions of people across the globe every year. The results in terms of
improved human health and reduced suffering are indeterminable.
Novel Anti-parasite Therapies From Bacteria and Plants
There was a disappointing slow
progress in developing effective and durable treatments for parasitic diseases.
The therapies from the Nobel Laureates in 2015 have changed the situation. Omura,
a microbiologist and expert in isolating natural products, concentrated on a
group of bacteria, Streptomyces
largest genus of Actinobacteria
group of bacteria, which lives in the soil, can produce a plethora of agents
with antibacterial activities.
Omura isolated new strains of Streptomyces
from soil samples using his
unique methods and cultured them in the laboratory. From those cultures, Omura
identified about 50 of the most promising to analyze their activity against
Campbell, an expert in parasite
biology, explored the efficacy of Omura's Streptomyces
cultures. He demonstrated that a component from one of the cultures could
efficiently work against parasites in domestic and farm animals. After a
purification process, the bioactive agent was named Avermectin. The agent was
then chemically changed to a more efficient compound called Ivermectin.
Scientists later tested this agent in the human body and it was found to
destroy parasite larvae effectively. Collectively, Omura and Campbell's
discoveries led to the development of a new class of drugs with
never-seen-before efficacy against parasitic diseases.
Malaria, caused by parasites, was
traditionally treated by chloroquine
. But the world had
witnessed declining success with the treatment, and the prevalence was on the
rise. This is the time, scientist Tu from China turned to traditional herbal
medicine to develop effective Malaria therapies. After a large-scale study, an
extract from the plant Artemisia annua
was found to be a promising candidate to use against malaria. But
the results of the study with the therapy candidate were not up to the expectation. Hence, Tu revisited the
ancient literature. Her efforts bore fruit in this attempt, and she discovered
important clues to extract successfully the active component from Artemisia
annua. The component later named Artemisinin. Tu was the first to identify this
component, which showed high efficacy against the Malaria parasite. Artemisinin
can rapidly kill the malaria
parasites at an early stage of their development.
A Brief History of Nobel Prize in Medicine
John O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and
Edvard Moser were honored with Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2014 for discovering
the brain's navigating system.
Swedish philanthropist and
scientist Alfred Nobel created the Nobel prizes in his 1895 will and the prizes
were first granted in 1901. Since then, as many as 105 Nobel Prizes in
Physiology or Medicine have been distributed. The prize for medicine was not
granted in nine years: in 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1925, 1940, 1941 and
1942. Why were the prizes not provided in those years? According to the Nobel
Prize laws, if none of the nominated works is found to be significant, the
prize money shall be reserved for the next year. During World War I and II, a
less number of prizes were announced.
Emil von Behring, a German
physiologist, is the first winner of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He
received the prize for his work in serum therapy at a ceremony held at the
Royal Academy of Music in Stockholmin in 1901. His therapy works better against
Diphtheria, an infection caused by the Corynebacterium
bacterium that infects the membranes of the throat and nose.
The infection affects people of all ages. However, it most often affects
unimmunized children under five. Behring is widely known as 'savior of
Until now, Nobel Prize in Medicine
has been awarded to 210 individuals. As many as 38 Medicine Prizes have been
granted to one laureate only, 32 Medicine Prizes have been shared by two
Laureates, and as many as 36 Medicine Prizes have been shared between three
Laureates. So far, 12 women have been granted the Medicine Prize.