Prof Youyou Tu awarded a Nobel Prize – what does this mean for Chinese medicine/parasitology? An Editor Q+A

Prof Youyou Tu has been awarded the Nobel Prize “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”. Here, we ask two of our Editors-in-Chief for their thoughts on Chinese medicine and parasitology, and how this has progressed.

Siu-wai Leung点击这里,阅读中文版

Dr Siu-wai Leung is Editor-in-Chief of Chinese Medicine. He’s Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Macau. Here, and in Edinburgh, he is now doing evidence-based research in systems biomedicine for early diagnosis, prevention and therapy of cancer, diabetes mellitus and neurodegenerative diseases.

Xiao-nong ZhouProfessor Xiao-Nong Zhou is Editor-in-Chief of Infectious Diseases of Poverty. He’s director of the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Shanghai, China. He is a leading expert in the rsearch and control of infectious diseases, with over 30 years’ experience in the field.

Some people believe that Prof Youyou Tu’s Nobel Prize is a sign that Western science has changed how it perceives alternative systems of medicine, although the Nobel Committee emphasize that it was not giving the award to traditional Chinese medicine but to a scientist who, inspired by Chinese medicine, went on to use available research methods to find a novel therapy against malaria. What is your opinion?

Siu-wai Leung (SL): The contribution of Prof Tu does matter in treating malaria and deserves the Nobel Prize. Even if the Nobel Committee do not recognize the role of Chinese medicine knowledge played in Prof Tu’s work for her Nobel Prize, this case definitely exemplifies how Chinese medicine knowledge is relevant to drug discovery.

Without the Chinese medicine knowledge as a heuristic in this case of drug discovery, much more time and effort would be required to achieve the same.

Over the years, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to several notable parasitologists, but in recent years parasitology has been overlooked. Do you think this year’s Nobel Prize will bring parasitology back to people’s attention?

Xiao-Nong Zhou (XZ): The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded for four parasitologists in the history, but most of them were awarded before 1950, such as Dr Ronald Ross for discovery of malaria in 1902, Dr Charles Louis Aplphones Laveran in recognition of his work on the role played by protozoa in 1907, Dr Julius Wagner-Jauregg for his discovery of the therapeutic value of malaria inoculation in the treatment of dementia paralytica in 1922, and Dr Paul Hermann Muller for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT in 1948.

This year, the fact of Prof Youyou Tu being awarded the Nobel Prize for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria will trigger more people to pay more attention to medical parasitology.

In particular, it is a good chance to bring the young generation to engage in research on medical parasitology in which a lot of research questions are still waiting for an answer.

For Western researchers who are not familiar with Chinese medicine, how would you explain the grand challenges and current opportunities of integrating Chinese medicine with contemporary medical systems and research methodologies?

SL: Let me try to simplify the conceptual issues. Integrative medicine is integrating multiple modalities of medicine that really work, by effective technologies for the best benefits to patients.

The barriers of communications and exchanges of different systems of knowledge have been the grand challenge for integrative medicine. It would take time to educate new generations of medical researchers in research methodologies and knowledge engineering to integrate different medical systems.

How do you think awarding the prize to Prof Youyou Tu will impact Chinese research/ science?

I think Western medicine researchers would be willing to collaborate with Chinese medicine researchers.

SL: I’m not able to predict this. But I think Western medicine researchers would be willing to collaborate with Chinese medicine researchers. And through influential advocates in the Chinese researchers’ community, Chinese research in science would focus more on what matters most to humans in the long term rather than short term benefits in winning academic administration games (such as rankings and citations) that are judged by non-scientific, non-validated, non-evidence-based measures of research performance. Those naïve measures would only defeat themselves by measuring many Nobel laureates.

XZ: All Chinese people appreciate the fact that Dr Youyou Tu was awarded the Noble Prize since she is the first Chinese scientists to get the prize. This will impact the Chinese science development in the future, at least in following three aspects: (i) on the promotion of operational research from innovation to evaluation and application, (ii) on the promotion of Chinese traditional medicine through the combination of both traditional research approaches and modern approaches, (iii) on the promotion of more research on the medical areas related to poverty reduction.

Parasitic diseases mostly occur in poorer areas with inadequate sanitation. What are the strategies and challenges for the control of parasitic diseases and the development of novel therapies?

XZ: Parasitic diseases are commonly presented in poor settings where resources are limited and lower level in social economic development, for instance the sanitation status is always poorly improved.

It is well-known that parasitic diseases are closely related to the environment and social behavior which is suitable to maintain the life-cycle of parasites as well as keep the transmission of parasitic diseases.

Most infected people are living in poor settings without mosquito nets, or exposure to the mosquito through their daily activities without any prevention measures.

Most infected people are living in poor settings without mosquito nets, or exposure to the mosquito through their daily activities without any prevention measures.

Over a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Americas are infected with one or more helminth species, causing morbidity that helps maintain the vicious cycle of poverty, decreased productivity, and inadequate socioeconomic development. This kind of vicious cycle needs to be interrupted with innovative intervention strategies.

What changes do you think the 2015 Nobel Prize would bring to Chinese medicine/parasitology and your journal?

SL: As Chinese Medicine’s mission is to showcase evidence-based or evidence-led Chinese medicine, the journal plays an important role in breaking the barriers of communication and exchanges among Chinese medicine and Western medicine researchers.

We have published many Chinese medicine studies with scientific research methods and evidence-based medicine approaches. We would expect that the journal will publish more manuscripts that are collaborated and co-authored by Chinese medicine and Western medicine researchers.

XZ: The announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is a milestone for research and control on infectious diseases of poverty. It’s not only to recognize the excellent discoveries of two drugs, but it is also to call for more action to help people in low- and middle-income countries whose health still needs to be supported.

Therefore, we hope the 2015 Noble Prize will trigger more foundations or international agencies to bring new resources into the field of parasitology, and new research to Infectious Diseases of Poverty. This will bring more opportunities for the development of Parasitology both in China and in the rest of the world.


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