Bridey Heing
October 05, 2015 7:55 am

This morning, the Nobel Prize winners in Physiology and Medicine were announced. This year, the award is being shared between three doctors who have done incredible work in fighting parasitic diseases, which impact millions of people around the world.

Doctors William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu have found “therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases,” according to the Nobel committee. Their work with diseases such as river blindness, filariasis, and malaria have revolutionized the way we understand and fight these diseases.

Dr. Campbell and Dr. Omura were honored for the development of Avermectin, from which Ivermectin is derived. That medicine has almost fully eradicated river blindness, which is spread by black flies that breed in rivers. The infection causes irritation and rashes, and can lead to permanent blindness. The drug also combates filariasis, which causes elephantiasis.

Dr. Tu, the first Chinese medicine laureate in history, discovered Artemisinin, which has cut the death rate from malaria significantly. It is estimated to save about 100,000 people each year in Africa alone. Her research began in the 1960s, when the Chinese government set about finding new treatments for the deadly disease. She drew from modern research and ancient medicinal writings to find ways to use the Artemisia herb, leading to the discovery.

Parasitic diseases are extremely common in areas of the world with limited resources and access to health care, such as regions of Africa and parts of Latin America. About a third of the world’s population is affected by the disease, and hundreds of thousands are killed each year. But as the Nobel committee said today, the work these three doctors have done radically changed our understanding and treatment of these diseases.

“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating disease that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the Nobel committee said in their announcement. “The consequences in terms of improving human health and reducing suffering is immeasurable.”

In addition to international recognition of their work, the three will share a $900,000 award. There’s no question that they deserve the honor, considering the millions of lives that can be—and have been—saved by the treatments they developed.

(Image via Nobel Prize/Wikipedia)

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