The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 has been awarded to three scientists for discoveries that have transformed treatment of malaria and some other parasitic diseases, which afflict hundreds of millions of people each year.
The $960,000 prize was divided, one-half jointly to Ireland’s William C. Campbell and Japan’s Satoshi Omura “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites,” and China’s Tu Youyou “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria,” The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced in a statement on Monday.
Campbell and Omura received the prestigious award for their discovery of avermectin, derivatives of which have widely helped in lowering the incidence of river blindness (Onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis (Elephantiasis). Both diseases are caused by parasitic worms, which infect vast numbers of people in Asia and Africa.
Tu, the 13th woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, discovered the drug Artemisinin that has significantly reduced mortality rates in people suffering from Malaria.
“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable,” the statement added.
Both discoveries have collectively saved the lives of millions of people since they were first discovered almost a century ago. Close to a third of the world’s population is affected by parasitic worms, and over 450,000 people are killed by Malaria each year.
William C. Campbell, a parasitologist and RISE Associate with Drew University, poses near paintings he made of parasites shortly after learning that he was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine, at his home in North Andover, Massachusetts October 5, 2015. (AP)
Campbell, a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, carried out the work resulting in the prize in the 1970s when he was the head of a team which developed ivermectin based on former research by Omura who is currently professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Kitasato University.
“I wonder if it’s really OK for me to win the prize,” the Japan’s public broadcaster NHK quoted Omura as saying. “I’ve been learning all along from microbes, so it would be good if it could be given to microbes instead of me.”
Kitasato University Prof. Emeritus Satoshi Omura attends a press conference at the university in Tokyo, October 5, 2015 after learning he and two other scientists from Ireland and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine. (AP)
Campbell said that receiving the prize was a great surprise, adding that, “It was a great team effort.”
“Thank you Sweden’s Karolinska Institute! Thank you Nobel Prize!” Tu wrote on social media.
Chinese pharmacologist Tu Youyou attending a meeting held by the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing on November 15, 2011. (AP/Xinhua)
The Noble committee stated that through their work Campbell, Omura and Tu had revolutionized the treatment of parasitic diseases and the global impact of their work on mankind are immeasurable.
The award was the first of this year’s to be announced. The awards for physics, chemistry and peace prizes are to be announced later on in the week, and prize for economics is set to be announced next Monday.
The 2014 award for medicine was bestowed on three scientists for “for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain.”
The Nobel prizes are a set of international awards granted annually in a number of categories by Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of academic, cultural and/or scientific advances and was established through the will of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895.