A veteran woman scientist from China who worked under Mao Zedong was among the three joint winners of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, the Nobel Assembly at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute announced on Monday.
Tu Youyou, 85, won the award, the first Chinese woman to do so and also the first Chinese to win it in the field of medicine, “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”.
Irish-born William Campbell, and Japan’s Satoshi Omura jointly won it “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites,” said the assembly.
Tu is affiliated to the prestigious China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the apex institution in the country conducting research in the field.
She is credited with the invention of the anti-malarial drug, artemisinin, decades ago which has since then been used the world over.
The scientist is not known to have received individual award for her achievements in her own country.
Tu was part of a group of scientists working under a secretive military project commissioned by Mao during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and the Vietnam War to find a cure for malaria.
Tu was among 500 scientists recruited to carry out extensive tests to find a mass drug for the disease.
Tu worked for decades but remained largely obscure to those outside her field.
That changed in 2011 when she won the prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award from the New York-based Lasker Foundation.
The citation for the award said, she got it for “the discovery of artemisinin, a drug therapy for malaria that has saved millions of lives across the globe, especially in the developing world.”
Tu’s awards from foreign institutions have not been without controversy.
Following the Nobel announcement on Monday, state-controlled Xin Lang website re-printed a commentary questioning whether Tu alone deserved the award.
“Why the research on artemisinin was not awarded in China and was first awarded overseas? The widely accepted answer is that: There is no particular owner of this contribution. In 1978, The Scientific Achievement Evaluation Party for the Program 523 finally attributed the development of artemisinin to “the overall group work of scientists..”