The Nobel prize for physiology and medicine were announced today and it has been split two ways for ground breaking work on parasitic diseases. Satoshi Omura and William C Campbell found a new way of tackling infections cause by roundworm parasites. They share the prize with Youyou Tu for her discovery of a therapy against malaria.
The Nobel committee said the work had changed the lives of millions of people affected by these diseases which are caused by parasites. Malaria, the mosquito borne disease, kills over 450,000 people each year around the world with billions more at risk of catching the deadly infection.
Parasitic worms such as roundworm affect a third of the world’s population and cause a number of illnesses including lymphatic filariasis andriver blindness.
There were decades of limited progress fighting these diseases, there was a discover of two new drugs; ivermectin for lymphatic filariasis and river blindness and artemisinin for malaria was an absolute game changer.
Tackling malaria was failing, older drugs were losing their potency and the disease was on the rise. Prof Youyou Tu looked to herbal medicine to tackle the disease. She took an extract from the plant known as Artemisia annua, otherwise known as sweet wormwood, and began tasting it on malaria parasites. The extract was effective and had a high success rate of killing the parasites.
It is currently being used around the world in combination with other malaria medicines. In Africa alone it is saving more than 100,000 lives a year.
She is sharing the award with two men who found a treatment for roundworm. Their research led to a drug called ivermectin which is so successful that roundworm is on the brink of eradication.
Satoshi Ōmura, a Japanese microbiologist, focused on studying microbes in soil samples. He selected a number of promising candidates that he though might work as a weapon against diseases.
Irish-born William C Campbell, an expert in parasite biology working in the US, then explored these further and found one was remarkably efficient against parasites.
The active ingredient, avermectin, went on to become a drug known as ivermectin which is now used to treat river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.
River blindness is an eye and skin disease that ultimately leads to blindness. Lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, causes painful swelling of the limbs. Both affect people living in some of the poorest countries in the world.