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An interview with Tu Youyou on being awarded Nobel Prize

Tu Youyou, the Nobel Prize, artemisinin


The door to Tu Youyou's 20th-floor apartment in Beijing was opened by her husband, Li Tingzhao. Mr. Li, a metallurgy engineer, has been serving as Dr. Tu's protector from the clamor of phone calls and well-wishers since the announcement this week that she had become the first citizen of the People's Republic of China to be awarded a Nobel Prize in the sciences. The honor for her discovery of artemisinin, a drug that is now part of standard antimalarial regimens, is being widely celebrated in China as a vindication of traditional Chinese medicine.

屠呦呦的家在北京一座公寓的20层,来开门的是她的丈夫李廷昭。李廷昭是一位冶金工程师,而自从本周屠呦呦成为第一位获得诺贝尔科学类奖项的中华人民共和国公民后,他一直忙于帮助妻子应对纷至沓来的电话和祝福。屠呦呦因发现青蒿素获奖,这一药物现已成为治疗痢疾标准疗法的一部分。在中国,她的获奖被视为是对中国传统医学的肯定,因此受到广泛的庆祝。

 

Her Nobel for medicine or physiology, which she shared with two other scientists who developed antiparasitic drugs, has also raised questions about the management of scientific research in China. Dr. Tu, 84, has been turned down for membership in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, apparently because she lacks foreign training and a formal doctoral degree. And some former colleagues have argued that the discovery of artemisinin, which grew out of a secret military project during the Vietnam War to fight the malaria that was debilitating China's allies in North Vietnam, was a group effort, not the work of an individual.

另有两名科学家因研究发现治疗寄生虫的药物,与屠呦呦共同获得今年的诺贝尔医学或生理学奖。她的获奖也引发了关于中国科学研究管理体系的争论。84岁的屠呦呦未能入选中国科学院院士,显然是因为她缺少海外留学背景,也没有正式的博士学位。她从前的一些同事认为,青蒿素的发现源于越南战争期间的一个秘密军事项目,目的是帮助中国的盟友北越对抗疟疾,那是集体努力的成果,不是一个人的工作。

 

In an interview, Dr. Tu said she did not entirely disagree with that point of view, but noted that she led the team that made the crucial discoveries. Seated on a beige couch, she repeatedly turned to textbooks to make her points. She appeared in good health, though a little hard of hearing, which is why she missed the phone call notifying her of her prize. Letters of congratulations from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Peking University lay on the living room table. Her husband proudly showed photographs of the couple in front of the White House when Dr. Tu traveled to the United States in 2011 to receive the Lasker Award for clinical medical research. Their apartment was filled with flowers from admirers and, toward the end of the interview, the mayor of Ningbo, her hometown, arrived with another bouquet.

采访中,屠呦呦说她并不完全反对这一观点,但指出做出关键发现的小组是她领导的。坐在米色沙发上接受采访时,她屡次翻开一些书以说明她的观点。她看上去身体不错,虽然听力有些下降,这是她没接通知她得奖的电话的原因。中国科学院和清华大学发来的贺信放在客厅的桌子上。她的丈夫自豪地展示着他们2011年在美国白宫前的合影。那一年,屠呦呦曾赴美国领取拉斯克临床研究奖。他们的家中摆满了崇拜者送来的鲜花。采访临近结束时,屠呦呦家乡宁波市的市长带着又一束花前来拜访。

 

Q. How did you start your work?

问:你是怎样开始你的工作的?

 

A. China had a very good relationship with North Vietnam and during the war, they had an epidemic of malaria. Soldiers' lives lost to malaria were two to three times those lost in combat. The malaria parasite had developed resistance to all drugs. The United States was working on it, too, because they were losing soldiers. At our institute, all research had been suspended because of the Cultural Revolution, but this was officially permitted by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. There had been no good results at a military hospital, so they came to my institute looking for help in 1969. They named me head of the program. I was young and ambitious, and happy to have something to do amid all the chaos.

答:中国与北越的关系曾经非常好,在越战期间,他们发生了流行性疟疾。疟疾导致的士兵战斗力损失是打仗损失的两到三倍。疟原虫已对所有现成药物都产生了抗药性。美国也在努力研究新药,因为他们也因疟疾损失士兵。在我的研究所,因为文革,所有的研究都停下来了,但这个项目是毛泽东和周恩来特批的。一家军医院的研究一直没有好的结果,所以他们1969年找到我所,要求帮助,他们任命我当项目负责人。我很年轻,而且雄心勃勃,很高兴在那个混乱的时候有事情做了。

 

Q. Given the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, what kind of equipment did you have?

问:文化大革命期间那么乱,你用什么设备做工作呢?

 

A. We had electricity and water and microscopes. We always had them. The equipment was made in China. When we needed other things, we'd go to the military hospital and use theirs.

答:我们有电、水和显微镜。我们总是有这些东西。设备都是中国制造的。需要其他设备时,我们会去军队医院用他们的。

 

Q. After you tested artemisinin on mice and monkeys and it proved effective, you took the drug yourself. Were you afraid?

问:你在小鼠和猴子身上测试了青蒿素,证明它是有效的之后,你自己也服了药。你害怕吗?

 

A. We worried whether the drug was safe. Two colleagues and I took it to show that it wasn't lethal. I thought it was my responsibility as a medical chemist and all part of the job.

答:我们担心药物是否安全。我和两位同事服了药,表明药不会死人。我认为这是我作为药物化学家的责任和工作的一部分。

 

Q. Were there other efforts underway in China to find an answer to malaria?

问:当时中国是否有其他治疗疟疾的努力?

 

A. There was a team of acupuncture specialists who were trying to cure patients in quarantine centers. Obviously that didn't work. The acupuncture specialists had to do it because this was assigned to them.

答:当时还有一个针灸专家的团队,在疟疾隔离区试图用针灸治愈病人,显然没有奏效。针灸专家们不得去那样做,因为那是派给他们的任务。

 

Q. Although you've been honored as the discoverer of this immensely important drug, you have not benefited from its commercial use.

问:虽然你作为发现者已经得到很高的荣誉,但你并有没从这个药的商业应用上受益。

 

A. China had no such thing as patents back then. We didn't know anything about patents. There were no boundaries of ownership or intellectual property. Whatever I did, I handed over to the leadership. Everyone in the mission contributed what they could.

答:中国当时有没专利这回事。我们对专利一无所知。没有所有权或知识产权这些东西。我做的东西都交给领导了。参加任务的每个人都尽自己的所能做了贡献。

 

Q. Are you disappointed not to have been admitted to the Chinese Academy of Sciences?

问:您对没有当选中国科学院院士失望吗?

 

A. I applied many times, because people told me I should. I did receive a few awards for the discovery. At the National Science Conference in 1978, my team was given an award. As the team leader, I accepted on behalf of the team. The minister of public health personally recommended me for academy membership. However, many factors must come into play. It's complicated.

答:我申请了好几次,因为人们告诉我,我应该去申请。我确实得到了一些对这个发现的奖励。在1978年的全国科学大会上,我的单位得了奖。作为小组长,我代表小组领了奖。卫生部长部长曾亲自推荐我当院士。但是,有许多因素在起作用。情况很复杂。

 

Q. There are critics, including former colleagues, who say you shouldn't have been singled out as the discoverer, that the work was a team effort.

问:包括你以前同事在内的一些批评者说,你不应该成为这个成果的唯一发现者,这项工作是集体努力的结果。

 

A. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. We all believed in collectivism. All I wanted was to do good work at my job. Of course, I'd be nothing without my team. Foreign countries like the United States care a lot about which individual should claim credit. Foreigners read historical records and picked me. Chinese awards are always given to teams, but foreign awards are different. This honor belongs to me, my team and the entire nation.

答:每个人都有发表意见的权利。我们都相信集体主义。我只是想好好工作。当然,没有团队,我什么都不是。国外比如美国很关心应该把功劳归给哪些个人。外国人读了有关历史记录,挑选了我。中国总是奖励集体,但外国的奖励不同。这个荣誉属于我和我的团队,也属于整个国家。

 

I don't care that much. I just know that I did all those experiments. The records are public and anyone can check them. The important thing is to respect facts. History is history.

我不在乎那么多。我只知道,我做了所有的那些实验。那些记录是公开的,任何人都可以去查看。最重要的是要尊重事实。历史就是历史。

 

Q. Will you travel to Sweden in December to accept the award?

问:十二月你会去瑞典领奖吗?

 

A. I've got a bad back. My doctor wants me to have surgery soon. I'll see how I feel come December. I didn't tell them I'm definitely coming. I didn't make any promises.

答:我的腰不好。医生让我尽快做手术。感觉怎样,到十二月再说。我没有告诉他们,我一定会去。我没向他们做任何保证。

2016-06-23

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