Dec 11, 2015 | By Alec

If you’re at all in touch with Swedish academic circles, you’ll will not have been able to miss all the exciting news about the Noble Prize ceremonies this year. The actual winners were already announced a while ago, but the actual awards were handed out during an extensive traditional event in Stockholm last night, featuring a prominently present Swedish royal family. No, there isn’t a separate category for 3D printing (yet), but a 3D printed silver lining was definitely there. Laureates are always also honored with a display at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm about their work, and Chinese laureate Tu YouYou (co-winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine) was honored with a tea display featuring a number of 3D printed parts.

The Nobel Prize awards are always a fascinating mixture of ceremony, pomp, and top level science. While there were a number of intriguing breakthroughs that were being honored, Tu YouYou was certainly among the most special scholars present. Alongside American and Japanese scientists William Campbell and Satoshi Omura, the 84-year-old received the award for her work in revolutionary treatments for malaria and other parasitic diseases – which still kill millions each year.

Interestingly enough, however, Tu was awarded for a breakthrough that has already been saving lives for decades. She and her team managed to extract a substance from Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood), which has been instrumental in combating malaria. “The discovery of Artemisinin has led to development of a new drug that has saved the lives of millions of people, halving the mortality rate of malaria during the past 15 years,” said Professor Hans Forssberg, member of the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. The award ceremony speech can be found here.

Tu received half of this year’s medicine prize of about US$47.5 million, with the rest being split equally between Campbeel and Omura. Aside from a very positive speech by professor Forssberg, the trio received Nobel medals from King Gustaf XVI of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall. The ceremony was followed by a glittering gala banquet at Stockholm's City Hall, attended by 1,300 people.

While discovering a drug that can combat malaria itself is impressive, the story behind it is actually even more interesting and a tale that highlights that traditional Chinese medicine has a lot of knowledge about herbs that can definitely be translated into 21rst century medical solutions. With the help of a 1700-year-old medical source, Tu and her team managed to extract the cure from sweet wormwood through an extensive trial and error process. For more on the discovery, go to the Nobel Prize website here.

On Monday, when the Nobel Lectures in Physiology or Medicine were given, Tu delivered a keynote speech titled "Artemisinin -- a gift from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to the world". In it, she recalled the compelling story of how they reached their breakthrough. She also called upon other scientists to learn from traditional medical practices, instead of snubbing them. Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure-house," which, she said, "should be explored and raised to a higher level. China has accumulated substantial experience in clinical practice, integrated and summarized medical application of most nature resource over the last thousands of years through Chinese medicine. Adopting, exploring, developing and advancing these practices would allow us to discover more novel medicines beneficial to the world healthcare," Tu said.

Unsurprisingly, the Nobel assembly was very impressed and engulfed the elderly scientist in applause. "She has done wonderful contribution to the world with her work, she really deserves it! It's a blessing for the Chinese people, as it is for the world!" Mats Wahlgren said, who is professor at Dept. of microbiology, Tumor and cell biology at Karolinska Institutet and member of the Nobel Assembly.

In face of that impressive discovery and impact on the world, a tribute made with help of 3D printing almost seems insufficient, but it is a nice touch. The Nobel Museum has set up a display featuring a series of cups and a teapot, all based on that groundbreaking Artemisia annua plant that carried the cure. While most parts are made from clay, the handles for the heater have all been 3D printed. A nice mixture of classic and high-tech technologies, just like this malaria cure is.



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