Tu Youyou

Pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou’s discovery of a new malaria treatment has saved millions of lives. Youyou, who studied traditional Chinese and herbal medicines, found a reference in ancient medical texts to using sweet wormwood to treat intermittent fevers–a symptom of malaria. 

Youyou and her research team were able to extract a malaria-inhibiting substance called artemisinin from wormwood. She even volunteered to be the first human subject to test the substance. Since her discovery of artemisinin in the 1970s, antimalarial drugs based on the substance have saved millions of lives. 

Tu Youyou is now chief scientist at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine–a position she reached without a medical degree, PhD, or research training abroad. She won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery, which has been deemed “arguably the most important pharmaceutical intervention in the last half-century” by the Lasker Foundation for medical research.

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