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Discoverer of malaria drug honored

A scientist who discovered a powerful malaria drug and two others who illuminated how proteins fold within cells have won prestigious medical awards.

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced the $250,000 prizes yesterday, to be presented Sept. 23 in New York.

Tu Youyou, 81, of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, won the clinical research award for discovering the malaria drug artemisinin, which the foundation said has saved millions of lives.

In the late 1960s, as part of a Chinese government project, Tu combed ancient texts and folk remedies to find a treatment for malaria. She collected 2,000 potential recipes, from which her team made 380 extracts. One of them, from sweet wormwood, showed promise in mouse studies. Following a clue from an ancient document, Tu redesigned the extraction process to make the extract more potent. In the early 1970s, she and her colleagues isolated the active ingredient, artemisinin.

The Lasker award for basic research is shared by Dr. Franz-Ulrich Hartl, 54, of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, and Dr. Arthur Horwich, 60, of Yale University. Their key discoveries about how proteins fold within cells may someday help scientists find new treatments for such illnesses as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Lou Gehrig's diseases, the foundation said.

Before their work, scientists thought proteins needed no help to fold into their proper shapes. But in the late 1980s, the two men discovered that the folding happens within a cage-like structure that promotes the process.

A third Lasker prize, for public service, was awarded to the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health, cited as "a model research hospital, providing innovative therapy and high-quality patient care, treating rare and severe diseases and producing outstanding physician-scientists."

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