Health: Nobel Prize Recipients Address Parasitic Diseases

Mosquitos and roundworms: both guilty of causing harmful parasitic diseases. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by parasitic microorganisms that kills 450,000 people every year. Roundworms are parasites that affect a third of the world’s population through several illnesses, including river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. River blindness is an infection and inflammation of the eye that damages the cornea, eventually causing blindness. Lymphatic filariasis is characterized by the life-long, painful swelling of the limbs.

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Youyou Tu, for her discovery of therapy against malaria, and to William C Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, for their discovery of therapy against roundworm diseases. Prof. Youyou Tu turned to an extract from a plant called Artemisia annua to kill the malaria parasite. The medicine, used jointly with other malaria medicines, has saved 100,000 lives every year in Africa alone.  Ōmura observed microorganisms in the soil and chose potential candidates to battle roundworm diseases. Campbell’s analysis of these candidates lead to the development of the drug ivermectin, which has effectively driven roundworm diseases close to eradication. According to the Nobel committee, “[t]he consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.”

Contributor: Cristina Herrera

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