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A CMIR Member Wins Nobel Prize in Medicine

As you might be aware, Professor Tu Youyou has won the Nobel prize in medicine for her discovery of artemisinin – a drug derived from Chinese Medicine which proved to be one of our most effective treatments against malaria. It has transformed the lives of millions of people in developing world.

Professor Tu’s award is a triumph for Chinese Medicine and indeed for the CMIR, which she co-founded and where she is an honorary member.

The Chinese Medical Institute and Register (CMIR UK) was founded in 1994 by AcuMedic Foundation in collaboration with the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

This Nobel prize is elevating Professor Tu’s profile in Western media. But the students would easily recognise her from their time in the CMIR lecture room at the AcuMedic Centre where we have always kept a copy of her honorary membership registration framed on the wall, along with those of other very distinguished members.

Tasked with finding a cure for malaria in 1967, she delved into the treasure trove of Chinese Medicine in search of a remedy that could stem the devastating disease.

Bear in mind that at the time over 240,000 compounds around the world had already been tested, without any success. Chloroquine, originally considered too toxic for human use, was the most effective drug at the time but was becoming less and less effective as the malaria parasites developed resistance.

As she scoured through more than 2,000 Chinese remedies, she discovered a 1,600 year-old recipe 'Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve' which described a preparation of Ching-hao - a bitter cold herb commonly known as sweet wormwood. Also known as Artemisia annua, the herb was used to battle malaria in China around 400 AD.

While studying the Chinese herb her team identified the active compound which appeared to fight malaria-friendly parasites. She perfected the preparation of the herbal extract until promising results could be replicated with more consistency.

She then volunteered to be the first human recipient of the new drug. She described the decision as her “responsibility”.

The new drug helped significantly reduce the mortality rates of malaria patients. Her discovery has provided humankind with powerful new means to combat a debilitating disease that affects hundreds of millions of people annually, the Nobel committee said.

Isolating an active ingredient and developing it into a standardised drug through clinical trials is not the only way to bring Chinese Medicine to patients. Nevertheless, Professor Tu’s triumph shows what can be achieved when traditional Chinese Medicine is treated with inquisitiveness and rigorous experimentation.

Her persistent curiosity into the vast body of ancient Chinese medical work serves as a lesson reiterated by Professor William C. Campbell, who shared the Nobel prize with Professors Tu and Satoshi Omura for his discovery of avermectin, a treatment for roundworm parasites. Upon receiving the prize he said “One of the big mistakes we’ve made all along is that there is a certain amount of hubris in human thinking that we can create molecules as well as nature can”.

In its evidence base of thousands of years of clinical observations Chinese Medicine teaches us what nature can do. A part of our job here at AcuMedic and the CMIR is to spread this knowledge and make the message loud and clear. After Professor Tu’s historic Nobel victory, we hope the world will start to listen more closely.

Click here to see the full list of CMIR’s honorary members


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Last Updated: October 31, 2015