Tenuous link to Nobel Prize win

Contrary to the views of Dr Hong Hai ("Nobel Prize a boost to TCM"; last Thursday) and others ("Turning point for traditional Chinese medicine"; Sunday), Dr Tu Youyou's contributions to medicine that won her the Nobel Prize have nothing to do with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Many Western drugs, such as morphine, atropine, quinine, reserpine and vincristine, originally came from plants.

With the progress of Western sciences, the chemical formulae of many of these drugs have become known, and synthesis can be carried out.

Dr Tu's discovery of artemisinin in 1967 came about after her team combed through more than 200 plants.

It was due to her perseverance as well as the incidental reference to a 1,600-year-old Chinese text that the drug was found.

There are tens of thousands of similar mentions in ancient Chinese medical books regarding cures that are completely untrue.

Indeed, artemisinin seems to be the only credible drug that has emerged from Chinese herbs in the past century.

Without Western scientific laboratory methods, Dr Tu would never have been able to achieve her well-earned success.

It is not related to the practice of TCM.

Ong Siew Chey (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Tenuous link to Nobel Prize win'. Print Edition | Subscribe