The Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (CATCM), hidden in the bustling city, is as low-key as ever. Without warning, its hard to see a Nobel Prize winner here, except for the bulletin board at the entrance of the Artemisinin Research Center on the second floor of the Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which records the beginning and end of the discovery of artemisinin by Tu Youyous research team.
Inspired by research from traditional ancient books and fearing no danger, Tus stories became well known after the Inno Prize became famous overnight. Recalling the past, Jiang Tingliang, the chief researcher of the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and chairman of the Academic Committee of the Artemisinin Research Center, who has worked with Tu Youyou for decades, has been unable to capture many details, but his impression of Tu Youyou remains the same: earnest, down-to-earth, low-key and persistent. This, he thought, was also a common trait of scientists.
_Jiang Tingliang, Chief Researcher of Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chairman of Academic Committee of Artemisinin Research Center. Photographed by Hou Shaoqing, a reporter of the New Beijing News
Talking about the past
Key Inspirations from Traditional Ancient Books
Beijing News: What was the opportunity for Tu Youyous team to do artemisinin research at that time?
Jiang Tingliang: During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Vietnam urgently appealed to China for help because of the serious reduction of malaria personnel. For this reason, China launched the 523 Plan to develop specific anti-maltreatment drugs. Many scientists participated in it, which was a national collaboration. After receiving the task, the Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (now the Chinese Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine) quickly established a research group, Tu Youyou as the leader of the research group.
Beijing News: What is the biggest difficulty in the study?
Jiang Tingliang: At that time, the effect of Artemisia annua extract obtained by boiling and high temperature extraction method was unstable. This problem has not been solved. Later Tu Youyou recalled that Gehong of the Eastern Jin Dynasty mentioned in his Emergency Formula for Elbow Reserve that Artemisia annua should be grasped with two liters of water to extract juice and take it as much as possible. She then wondered why it was written in the book to use cold water bubbles, whether the common methods of boiling and high temperature extraction destroyed the active ingredients of Artemisia annua, so she changed to use ether to extract at low temperature to solve the problem of stability.
New Beijing News: There are media reports that Tu Youyou once tried medicine by himself. Is that true?
Jiang Tingliang: The drug must be safe, effective, controllable and stable. The research team found that artemisinin is effective against Plasmodium, so how about its safety? In order to grasp the clinical use, Tu Youyou offered to do the experiment on her own initiative. The superior leaders agreed to her application. The first three of them did the experiment, and then they did it again. Several people repeated the experiment, no problem. Before the experiment, it was unknown how much damage artemisinin did to human body. They took a certain risk.
After the discovery of artemisinin, to extract a large amount of artemisinin enough for clinical use, at that time the conditions were not available, there was no such large container to soak, we used the common peoples pickle jar, soaked with ether, but ether will volatilize, she stayed in such an environment for a long time, got hepatitis.
Tu Youyou Artemisinin Laboratory, researchers do experiments in the laboratory. Photographed by Hou Shaoqing, a reporter of the New Beijing News
When she watched TV, she knew she had won the Nobel Prize.
Beijing News: When did you know that she won the prize?
Jiang Tingliang: She called me by herself. Because I have known her colleagues for many years, she called me and said, Ouch, I cant stand it. Many journalists came to my home and didnt know what to say to them. Isnt it just a medicine?
Later, I also heard others say that Nobel Prize called to inform her that day, she just went out of the house, did not receive a phone call, the next afternoon she watched TV to know that she won the prize, the media know the news and ran to her home.
Beijing News: I heard that she didnt plan to receive the prize at first.
Jiang Tingliang: She didnt pay much attention to honor, and she was not in good health at that time. We advised her to accept the prize if she could insist on it. This is the first time that the research done by the Chinese themselves has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Science. Several Chinese scientists have won the prize before, but it is basically done abroad. It is the first time that artemisinin is completely done at home.
We told her that it was a matter of the country. She decided to go for the sake of her countrys reputation. Originally, she was going to stand up to give a speech. Later, she moved her chair up and sat down and said that she was not in good health. In the same year, the United States also invited her to accept a prize, she could not go because of physical reasons.
Talking about character
Earnestly and steadfastly adhere to, willing to sit on the cold bench
New Beijing News: In your opinion, what kind of person is Tu Youyou?
Jiang Tingliang: She says whatever she thinks in her heart. People who dont know her think that she doesnt speak smoothly enough. She says whatever she thinks. In scientific research work, we are very conscientious, down-to-earth, persistent and willing to sit on the cold bench. If we dont do research step by step, we cant get groundbreaking discoveries. She gives you the impression that she takes people in scientific research seriously and insists on such qualities. I think this is what scientists have in common.
Beijing News: in the eyes of the public and the media, she seems to be very low-key and mysterious.
Jiang Tingliang: Actually, its not mysterious (laughing). Before and after she became famous, she was very low-key. She declined the invitation to become an honorary professor in some universities or institutions, some of which were not in her field, and she thought that since she had to do her duty as an honorary professor, she could not afford it. She also declined some international meetings.
Her neighbors in her neighborhood may know that, oh, the old lady won the Nobel Prize. But sometimes we eat out together and nobody else knows.
_Researchers observed cultivated Artemisia annua. Photographed by Hou Shaoqing, a reporter of the New Beijing News
Talk about research
The Real Solution to the Problem of Turning Papers into Drugs
Beijing News: Is she still doing research?
Jiang Tingliang: She has been doing research for a long time since she discovered artemisinin. Because the chemical structure of artemisinin is rare in nature, she hopes to continue exploring it. Artemisinin has been discovered for more than 40 years, and the mechanism of its action is still uncertain in the world. She also hopes to further study its real mechanism of action, which is of great significance for further utilization of artemisinin. She also has some ideas about future development, and we are discussing further. She hopes to fully discover the value of artemisinin.
Shes not coming to the research center right now, and we dont want her to come either. Good health is the first priority. She mainly grasps some principles and directional issues. We will give her a written report on the research progress, or go to her home to discuss some things face to face.
For example, she told us before, We need to turn papers into medicines. Now some researchers think that it is important to publish papers, but she thinks that to turn papers into medicine, we should really solve the health problems of the people. This sentence is very simple, but it reflects where our research ends.
Beijing News: What is the current research direction of the team?
Jiang Tingliang: Malaria was very serious before liberation. After many years of prevention and control, the malaria infected by ourselves in China has disappeared, and it has not been paid much attention to by the common people. But malaria is still a major infectious disease worldwide. WHO still lists malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis as major diseases threatening human health.
Good use of artemisinin is still a necessary choice for curing malaria. In April of this year, we published a research paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, proposing the idea of addressing artemisinin resistance. Now we are looking for clinical testing in some areas of the world.