Nobel Prize 2015: using animal research to get rid of parasites

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine is shared between William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura, and Youyou Tu, who contributed to fighting parasitic diseases, among which malaria. The research behind this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has once again relied on animal research – over the past 40 years, every Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine bar one has done so.

2015 Nobel Laureates

The 2015 Nobel Prize laureates for Physiology or Medicine: William C. Campbell, Satoshi Ōmura and Youyou Tu

Youyou Tu’s group screened over 200 herbs from traditional Chinese medicine on monkey and mouse models of malaria, and thereby discovered a compound called Artemisinin, or Qinghaosu. This compound possesses the most rapid action of all current drugs against the parasite in mosquitoes that causes malaria.

Campbell and Ōmura’s work on avermectins relied on experiments in sheep, cows, dogs and chickens, and mice. They found a group of compounds that expel parasitic worms. Avermectins have been used to expel parasites causing diseases such as elephantiasis and river blindness, which both mainly occur in developing countries.

Artemisinin, or ©Ton Rulkens

Artemisinin, or Chinese wormwood / Qinghaosu. A natural anti-malarial, it has the most rapid action against Plasmodium falciparum of all currently available drugs ©Ton Rulkens\Flickr

Onchocerca volvulus

Onchocerca volvulus, the parasitic worm which causes river blindness ©WHO/TDR/OCP

Apart from the value of this Nobel Prize winning research to human health, it has also been a great step forward in veterinary medicine. Ivermectin, a type of avermectin, is used as a broad-spectrum anti-parasite drug which veterinarians prescribe in case they suspect a parasitic infection in an animal’s lungs or digestive system. It can be used in dogs, cats, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry against external and internal parasites: worms, lice, mites, ticks and flies.

Together, Campbell, Ōmura and Tu have made important steps forward in treating parasitic diseases. This progress could not have been made without the use of animals in research – and shows again that animal research can benefit humans and animals alike.

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