Herbal medicine, bacteria & the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine

4 November 2015

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine and the Nobel Prize

One of the greatest antifebrile herbs Artemisia annua (Qing hoa) was the basis of research that lead to Youyou Tu being awarded a shared Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine. Tu’s research revolved around (what is considered) the active constituent Artemisinin that was subsequently developed as an alternative malaria cure to the standard chloroquine. Tu drew her inspiration from the Ge Hong text Zhouhou Beijifang (Emergency Prescriptions or The Handbook of Medicine for Emergencies) – a book light enough to keep “behind the elbow” (zhouhou), namely, in one’s sleeve, where Chinese men sometimes carried their belongings. A classic in Traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

The other shared winners were William Campbell and Satoshi Omura whose study of compounds from soil bacteria that led to the discovery of avermectin, (further modified into ivermectin). Their treatment kills parasitic roundworms that cause infections such as river blindness and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).

Nature shines yet again…

… “there is a certain amount of hubris in humans thinking that they can create molecules as well as nature can create molecules in terms of the diversity of molecules, because nature consistently produces molecules that have not been thought of by humans” William C. Campbell, shared Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 2015

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