3 Scientists Win Nobel Prize in Medicine for Parasite-Fighting Therapies
Monday, October 5, 2015
Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering “therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases,” the Nobel committee announced on Monday.
William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omurawon for developing a new drug, Avermectin. A derivative of that drug, Ivermectin, has nearly eradicated river blindness and radically reduced the incidence of filariasis, which causes the disfiguring swelling of the lymph system in the legs and lower body known as elephantiasis. They shared the $900,000 award with Youyou Tu, who discovered Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced death rates from malaria.
“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said in a statement. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.”
Parasitic worms afflict a third of the world’s population, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease caused by single-cell parasites that invade red blood cells, kills more than 450,000 people a year, most of them children.
“After decades of limited progress in developing durable therapies for parasitic diseases, the discoveries by this year’s laureates radically changed the situation,” the committee said.
Dr. Omura, a microbiologist, is an expert in isolating natural products. He collected and tested scores of soil samples for Streptomyces, bacteria that live in the soil and produce antibacterial agents. Dr. Omura isolated new strains of Streptomyces from soil samples and cultured them in the laboratory. From thousands of cultures, he selected about 50 of the most promising ones. One later turned out to be Streptomyces avermitilis, the source of Avermectin.