Academics / Community

Celebrating Women in Science: Youyou Tu

In 2015, Chinese female scientist Youyou Tu was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery of artemisinin, a substance extracted from herbs. This substance was found to be an effective treatment for malaria, and drugs based on it have significantly improved the survival and health conditions of many people. Her discovery of this substance was probably inspired by her experience in traditional Chinese medicine, in which herbal medicine is a big part.

As the first Chinese woman who received this award, Youyou Tu has become a role model for many female science aspirants.

Looking back from today, this event happened almost 2 years ago. What more was going on during these years in Professor Tu’s team of scientists?

Youyou Tu and her team kept digging deeper and deeper into artemisinin and found out that artemisinin, specifically dihydroartemisinin, can be an effective treatment for lupus erythematosus (LE), an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues.

Authorities in China also have begun to highly value these events and the discoveries.

Currently, “Dihydroartemisinin Treatment of Lupus Erythematosus” has been approved by China’s Food and Drug Administration for carrying out clinical validation.

And now, time has walked into 2018.

Just like everyone else, Professor Tu expressed her “New Year’s Resolutions” as well: she and her team will aim for a deeper understanding of artemisinin, trying their best to make their research papers become real and effectual drugs.

However, Professor Tu still holds many concerns about some issues.

For one thing, she thinks that people have not attached enough importance to traditional Chinese medicine.

According to Boli Zhang, the President of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, “Unlike western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine cannot be quantified through instruments and equipment. Many things can only be perceived rather than expressed, and this characteristic has become an obstacle to the advancement of traditional Chinese medicine.” Furthermore, there is no national laboratory for traditional Chinese medicine in China so far, while for western medicine, there are hundreds of them.

Another thing that is in Professor Tu’s mind is that, although her team has evolved from only 3 people to more than 20 members to help out with research, the number is far from enough.

“I am already 87 years old. Tingliang Jiang is 84, and Fulong Liao is 75. We need to ‘work,’ but we need more younger people to join us,” said Professor Tu when she thought of the other two members whom she has worked with for decades.

Therefore, she hopes that her team and her research, as well as the field of traditional Chinese medicine, will be put more emphasized by the country. She also hopes that China will establish a national laboratory for traditional Chinese medicine as soon as possible.

“We need to build a high-level research platform for traditional Chinese medicine, using the most cutting-edge technology to really dig into artemisinin. Then we can accomplish the true meaning of combining the East and the West.”

Moreover, the advanced research platform can attract more valuable researchers from inside and outside the country.

“We have already introduced some young talents into the team, and they have contributed a lot to the research on artemisinin. But we still feel that it’s not enough. We want to introduce more talent from all over the world.” Professor Tu expressed her wish to recruit leading talents from at home and abroad through the “Thousand People Plan” and many more approaches, helping artemisinin serve people’s health better.

As Youyou Tu’s research has already contributed to the benefit of humans, it is important to notice what she has to say about what can be done to improve the current situation of her team’s studies. Let’s all hope that more and more people will pay attention to these issues, and artemisinin will be able to perform to the best of its potential in the near future.