Tu Youyou

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Tu Youyou
Tu Youyou 5012-1-2015.jpg
Tu Youyou, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, in Stockholm, December 2015.
Native name
Born (1930-12-30) 30 December 1930 (age 88)
Residence Beijing
Alma materPeking University Medical School / Beijing Medical College (now Peking University Health Science Center) [note 1]
Known forDiscovering artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin
Awards Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award (2011)
Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (2015)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2015)
Highest Science and Technology Award, China (2016)
Scientific career
Fields Medicinal chemistry
Chinese herbology
Antimalarial medication
Clinical research
InstitutionsChina Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine [2] [note 2]
Academic advisors Lou Zhicen
Chinese name
Chinese 屠呦呦

Tu Youyou (Chinese :屠呦呦; pinyin :Tú Yōuyōu; born 30 December 1930) is a Chinese pharmaceutical chemist and educator. She discovered artemisinin (also known as qinghaosu) and dihydroartemisinin, used to treat malaria, a significant breakthrough in 20th-century tropical medicine, saving millions of lives in South China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the Han majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry are disciplines at the intersection of chemistry, especially synthetic organic chemistry, and pharmacology and various other biological specialties, where they are involved with design, chemical synthesis and development for market of pharmaceutical agents, or bio-active molecules (drugs).


For her work, Tu received the 2011 Lasker Award in clinical medicine and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura. Tu is the first Chinese Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine and the first female citizen of the People's Republic of China to receive a Nobel Prize in any category. She is also the first Chinese person to receive the Lasker Award. Tu Youyou was born, educated and carried out her research exclusively in China. [3]

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine One of five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, administered by the Nobel Foundation, is awarded yearly for outstanding discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine. It is one of five Nobel Prizes established in his will in 1895 by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. Nobel was interested in experimental physiology and wanted to establish a prize for scientific progress through laboratory discoveries. The Nobel Prize is presented at an annual ceremony on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel's death, along with a diploma and a certificate for the monetary award. The front side of the medal displays the same profile of Alfred Nobel depicted on the medals for Physics, Chemistry, and Literature. The reverse side is unique to this medal. The most recent Nobel prize was announced by Karolinska Institute on 1 October 2018, and has been awarded to American James P. Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo – for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.

William C. Campbell (scientist) Irish biochemist

William Cecil Campbell is an Irish and American biologist and parasitologist known for his work in discovering a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworms, for which he was jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He helped to discover a class of drugs called avermectins, whose derivatives have been shown to have "extraordinary efficacy" in treating River blindness and Lymphatic filariasis, among other parasitic diseases affecting animals and humans. Campbell worked at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research 1957–1990, and is currently a research fellow emeritus at Drew University.

Satoshi Ōmura Japanese biochemist

Satoshi Ōmura [satoɕi oːmu͍ɽa] is a Japanese biochemist. He is known for the discovery and development of various pharmaceuticals originally occurring in microorganisms. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with William C. Campbell and Tu Youyou.

Early life

Tu was born in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China, on 30 December 1930. [4]

Ningbo Prefecture-level & Sub-provincial city in Zhejiang, Peoples Republic of China

Ningbo, formerly written Ningpo, is a sub-provincial city in northeast Zhejiang province, People's Republic of China. It comprises the urban districts of Ningbo proper, three satellite cities, and a number of rural counties including islands in Hangzhou Bay and the East China Sea. Its port, spread across several locations, is among the busiest in the world and the municipality possesses a separate state-planning status. As of the 2010 census, the entire administrated area had a population of 7.6 million, with 3.5 million in the six urban districts of Ningbo proper. To the north, Hangzhou Bay separates Ningbo from Shanghai; to the east lies Zhoushan in the East China Sea; on the west and south, Ningbo borders Shaoxing and Taizhou respectively.

My [first] name, Youyou, was given by my father, who adapted it from the sentence ‘呦呦鹿鸣, 食野之蒿’ [5] translated as ‘Deer bleat “youyou” while they are eating the wild Hao’ in the Chinese Book of Odes. How this links my whole life with qinghao will probably remain an interesting coincidence forever.

<i>Artemisia</i> (genus) genus of plants

Artemisia is a large, diverse genus of plants with between 200 and 400 species belonging to the daisy family Asteraceae. Common names for various species in the genus include mugwort, wormwood, and sagebrush.

<i>Classic of Poetry</i> collection of Chinese poetry, comprising works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC

The Classic of Poetry, also Shijing or Shih-ching, translated variously as the Book of Songs, Book of Odes, or simply known as the Odes or Poetry is the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, comprising 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC. It is one of the "Five Classics" traditionally said to have been compiled by Confucius, and has been studied and memorized by scholars in China and neighboring countries over two millennia. It is also a rich source of chengyu that are still a part of learned discourse and even everyday language in modern Chinese. Since the Qing dynasty, its rhyme patterns have also been analysed in the study of Old Chinese phonology.

Tu Youyou, when interviewed in 2011 after being awarded the 2011 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award [6]

She attended Xiaoshi Middle School for junior high school and the first year of high school, before transferring to Ningbo Middle School in 1948. A tuberculosis infection interrupted her high-school education, but inspired her to go into medical research. [7] From 1951 to 1955, she attended Peking University Medical School / Beijing Medical College. [note 1] In 1955, Youyou Tu graduated from Beijing Medical University School of Pharmacy and continued her research on Chinese herbal medicine in the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Tu studied at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and graduated in 1955. Later Tu was trained for two and a half years in traditional Chinese medicine.

Xiaoshi Middle School or Xiaoshi High School, is a high school offering senior-high education in Ningbo, China. A formerly private school, Xiaoshi Middle School, with its long history of over 100 years, is regarded as one of the best schools in Eastern China.

Ningbo High School(Chinese: 宁波中学; pinyin: Níngbō Zhōngxué) is a prestigious high school offering education from a junior-high to senior-high level in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, China.

Peking University university in Beijing, China

Peking University is a major research university in Beijing, China, and a member of the elite C9 League of Chinese universities. The first modern national university established in China, it was founded during the late Qing Dynasty in 1898 as the Imperial University of Peking and was the successor of the Guozijian, or Imperial College. The university's English name retains the older transliteration of "Beijing" that has been superseded in most other contexts.

After graduation, Tu worked at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (now the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences [note 2] ) in Beijing.

Tu and her husband, Li Tingzhao (李廷钊), a metallurgical engineer, live in Beijing. Li was Tu's classmate at Xiaoshi Middle School. They have two daughters. Tu's maternal grandfather, Yao Yongbai (姚咏白), was the first Director of National Treasury Administration after its reform. Her uncle, Yao Qingsan (姚庆三), was an economist and banker.[ citation needed ]

Research career

Tu carried on her work in the 1960s and 70s during China's Cultural Revolution, when scientists were denigrated as one of the nine black categories in society according to Maoist theory (or possibly that of the Gang of Four).


During her early years in research, Tu studied Lobelia chinensis , a traditional Chinese medicine for curing schistosomiasis, caused by trematodes which infect the urinary tract or the intestines, which was widespread in the first half of the 20th century in South China.[ citation needed ]


In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam (which was at war against South Vietnam and the United States), asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai for help in developing a malaria treatment for his soldiers trooping down the Ho Chi Minh trail, where a majority came down with a form of malaria which is resistant to chloroquine. Because malaria was also a major cause of death in China's southern provinces, including Hainan, Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong, Zhou Enlai convinced Mao Zedong to set up a secret drug discovery project named Project 523 after its starting date, 23 May 1967. [8]

In early 1969, Tu was appointed head of the Project 523 research group at her institute. Tu was initially sent to Hainan where she studied patients who had been infected with the disease. [9]

Scientists worldwide had screened over 240,000 compounds without success. In 1969, Tu, then 39 years old, had an idea of screening Chinese herbs. She first investigated the Chinese medical classics in history, visiting practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine all over the country on her own. She gathered her findings in a notebook called A Collection of Single Practical Prescriptions for Anti-Malaria. Her notebook summarized 640 prescriptions. By 1971, her team had screened over 2,000 traditional Chinese recipes and made 380 herbal extracts, from some 200 herbs, which were tested on mice. [8]

One compound was effective, sweet wormwood ( Artemisia annua ), which was used for "intermittent fevers," a hallmark of malaria. As Tu also presented at the project seminar, its preparation was described in a 1,600-year-old text, in a recipe titled, "Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One's Sleeve". At first, it was ineffective because they extracted it with traditional boiling water. Tu Youyou discovered that a low-temperature extraction process could be used to isolate an effective antimalarial substance from the plant; [10] Tu says she was influenced by a traditional Chinese herbal medicine source, The Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatments, written in 340 by Ge Hong, which states that this herb should be steeped in cold water. [11] This book contained the direction to immerse a handful of qinghao in the equivalent of two litres of water, wring out the juice and drink it all. [3] After rereading the recipe, Tu realised the hot water had already damaged the active ingredient in the plant; therefore she proposed a method using low-temperature ether to extract the effective compound instead. The animal tests showed it was completely effective in mice and monkeys. [8]

In 1972, she and her colleagues obtained the pure substance and named it qinghaosu (青蒿素), or artemisinin as it is commonly called in the West, [10] [12] [13] which has saved millions of lives, especially in the developing world. [14] Tu also studied the chemical structure and pharmacology of artemisinin. [10] Tu's group first determined the chemical structure of artemisinin. In 1973, Tu wanted to confirm the carbonyl group in the artemisinin molecule, therefore she accidentally synthesized dihydroartemisinin.

Furthermore, Tu volunteered to be the first human subject. "As head of this research group, I had the responsibility" she said. It was safe, so she conducted successful clinical trials with human patients. Her work was published anonymously in 1977. [8] In 1981, she presented the findings relating to artemisinin at a meeting with the World Health Organization. [15] [16]

For her work on malaria, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine on 5 October 2015.

Later career

She was promoted to a Researcher (研究员, the highest researcher rank in mainland China equivalent to the academic rank of a full professor) in 1980 shortly after the Chinese economic reform began in 1978. In 2001 she was promoted to academic advisor for doctoral candidates. Currently she is the Chief Scientist in the Academy. [17]

As of 2007, her office is in an old apartment building in Dongcheng District, Beijing. [4]

Before 2011, Tu Youyou had been obscure for decades, and is described as "almost completely forgotten by people". [18]

Tu is regarded as the Professor of Three Noes [19] – no postgraduate degree (there was no postgraduate education then in China), no study or research experience abroad, and not a member of any Chinese national academies, i.e. Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering. [20] Tu is now regarded as a representative figure of the first generation of Chinese medical workers since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949. [21]


See also


  1. 1 2 Peking University Medical School (北京大学医学院) became the independent Beijing Medical College (北京医学院) in 1952. Tu Youyou attended it between 1951 and 1955. Later in 1985 it was renamed Beijing Medical University (北京医科大学), and was returned to Peking University as Peking University Health Science Center (北京大学医学部) since 2005. [1]
  2. 1 2 The Beijing-based Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (中医研究院) was established in 1955 and renamed the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (中国中医研究院) in 1985 and then the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences (中国中医科学院) in 2005. Tu Youyou has been working at the Academy since 1955. The Academy was subsidiary to the Ministry of Health and is now directly under the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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<i>Artemisia annua</i> species of plant

Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood, sweet annie, sweet sagewort, annual mugwort or annual wormwood, is a common type of wormwood native to temperate Asia, but naturalized in many countries including scattered parts of North America.

Artemisinin chemical compound

Artemisinin and its semisynthetic derivatives are a group of drugs used against malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum. It was discovered in 1972 by Tu Youyou, a Chinese scientist, who was awarded half of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery. Treatments containing an artemisinin derivative are now standard treatment worldwide for P. falciparum malaria. Artemisinin is isolated from the plant Artemisia annua, sweet wormwood, a herb employed in Chinese traditional medicine. A precursor compound can be produced using a genetically-engineered yeast, which is much more efficient than using the plant.

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Project 523 is a code name for the secret military project of the People's Republic of China during and after the Cultural Revolution, for antimalarial medications, which were urged in the Vietnam War. The name stood for 23 May, the day the project was launched in 1967. It was aimed at finding new drugs for malaria, the disease which claimed more lives than the actual battles. At the behest of Hồ Chí Minh, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Zhou Enlai, the Premier of the People's Republic of China, convinced Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, to start a mass project for development of new antimalarial drug "to keep [the] allies' troops combat-ready", as they put down in the meeting minute. More than 500 Chinese scientists were recruited. The project was divided into two streams, one for developing synthetic compounds, and the other for investigating traditional Chinese medicine. The latter proved to be the more fruitful, directly resulting in the discovery and development of a class of new antimalarial drugs called artemisinins. It was officially terminated in 1981.

Peking University Health Science Center is the medical school of Peking University, which is affiliated with 14 hospitals in Beijing, China. It was formerly the independent Beijing Medical University.

Tu is a Chinese family name, and the 279th family name in Hundred Family Surnames (百家姓). Tu (涂) is another Chinese surname.

Zhou Yiqing is a professor of medicine at the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology of the People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Medical Sciences. He was one of the scientists who participated in the Project 523 of the Chinese Government under Chairman Mao Zedong. The project resulted in the discovery of artemisinins, a class of antimalarial drugs, from the medicinal plant Artemisia annua.

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