Phytotherapy wins Nobel Prize

Phytotherapy wins Nobel Prize

Nobel Prize for artemisinin brings phytotherapy into the spotlight

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine was scientist Youyou Tu of China, who was recognized for discovering Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly lowered mortality rates from malaria, based on a centuries-old herbal remedy.*

The review of the antimalarial activity of a group of drugs derived from the medicinal herb Artemisia annua commonly known as “sweet wormwood” was endorsed. Artemisia annua’s is used in herbal medicine for hundreds of years but an extract of the herb called Artemisinin had its antimalarial activity rediscovered by the Chinese in 1971 when animal work indicated its activity against malaria parasites.

“Artemisinin represents a new class of antimalarial agents that rapidly kill the Malaria parasites at an early stage of their development, which explains its unprecedented potency in the treatment of severe Malaria,” the Nobel Assembly said this week. Artemisinin compounds cure malaria more rapidly than other antimalarial drugs with no apparent toxicity.

Currently malaria infects around 200 million people every year, and Artemisinin is used everywhere where malaria is considered a problem. When used in combination with other treatments, Artemisinin has reduced death rates from malaria by over 20%, and over 30% in children.

Artemisinin-based combination therapies are currently the first line of treatment against malaria for the medical community.

The Irish and European equivalent species is Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and has been used against intestinal worms and gastric disturbance for centuries. The plant became well known in the 19th century as the unique ingredient in the liqueur, absinthe.

It is a great news for the entire scientific community dedicated to natural products that the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 was awarded by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden) for the discovery of two main natural products: (1) avermectin, a macrocyclic lactone isolated from the soil microorganism Streptomyces avermitilis (and its derivative ivermectin) and (2) artemisinin, a sesquiterpene lactone containing an unusual peroxide bridge, isolated from the plant Artemisia annua L. (Asteraceae).

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