The Associated Press

On Monday, October 5, 2015, the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to William Campbell and Satoshi Omura for their discovery of avermectin, a drug that has been distributed to millions of people around the world to treat two common neglected tropical diseases. The prize was shared with Tu Youyou, who was honored for her discovery of Artemisinin, a drug that when used in combination therapy is estimated to prevent more than 100,000 deaths from from each year in Africa alone.

"Omura and Campbell created the drug avermectin, whose derivatives have nearly rid the planet of river blindness and lymphatic filarisis, diseases caused by parasitic worms and spread by mosquitos and flies. They affect millions of people in Africa, Latin America and Asia, leaving sufferers blind or disfigured and often unable to work.

"The Nobel committee said the winners, who are all in their 80s and made their breakthroughs in the 1970s and '80s, had given humankind powerful tools: 'The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable,' the committee said.

"The Carter Center called the three laureates 'heroes in the truest sense of the word, saving lives through medicine.'

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'(Ivermectin) reduces the number of parasites in the blood so that when a mosquito bites someone, it cannot transmit the disease to someone else,' said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He said mass distribution campaigns have given out ivermectin for free to 450 million people in efforts to eliminate both river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

Hotez said that in parts of Africa, adult sufferers of river blindness are often led around with a stick by a young child. Until ivermectin came along, Hotez said there was no way to effectively prevent the disease."

 

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