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‘America’s Nobel’ awarded to Chinese scientist

The following is a USA Today news article about the discoverer of Artemisinin being honored with a Lasker Award in 2011:

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY, September 12, 2011

One of medicine’s most prestigious prizes this year goes to scientists who discovered how ‘machines’ within cells control the folding of proteins, a researcher who discovered a new treatment for malaria in ancient Chinese herbal tradition and a health center that has made a specialty of turning scientific advances into innovative therapies.

The Lasker Awards, announced today come with a $250,000 honorarium given each group of researchers. Created in 1945 by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, they are known as “America’s Nobels.” Many recipients have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize. The awards will be presented on Sept. 23 in New York City.

Basic Medical Research

The Basic Medical Research Award goes to Franz-Ulrich Hartl of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Germany and Arthur Horwich of Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.

Hartl, 54, and Horwich, 60, discovered that proteins cannot fold inside cells by themselves but require another protein, which they call “chaperonin,” because it assists in the process. This protein acts as a cage-like folding “machine” that gives the proteins a place to fold away from interference by other cellular activities.

Proteins within cells must fold their amino-acid chains into three-dimensional forms before they can perform their molecular functions within the cell. In the1980s Hartl and Horwich discovered a previously unknown apparatus within the cell encased an unfolded protein, allowing it to take energy from the cell and fold without sticking to other proteins.

Misfolded proteins are a cause of neurodegenerative illnesses such as as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The duo’s discovery is helping researchers understand how these diseases progress and how they might be treated.

Clinical Research

Tu Youyou of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, receives the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for her discovery of the malaria drug artemisinin, which has saved millions from dying from malaria, especially in the developing world.

Tu, 81, began working on malaria during China’s Cultural Revolution, when the government launched a secret military project to find a remedy to one of the world’s most deadly diseases. Tu went through traditional Chinese medical and folk remedy texts looking for possible treatments. One, the extracts from Artemisia annua L., or sweet wormwood, stopped the parasite’s growth. In 1972 they produced a drug that could be used to treat humans.

Public Service

The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. will receive the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award. Since its founding in 1953, Center researchers has targeted diseases ranging from endocrine, neurological, blood, vision, and autoimmune disorders to adrenal problems, vitamin deficiencies, infectious diseases, and behavioral conditions such as schizophrenia and depression as well as AIDS. The Center focuses on understanding basic biological processes so its researchers and physicians can better treat diseases that have eluded diagnosis and treatment.