Following the 2014 win of the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the blue-light-emitting diodes of three Japanese scientists, the country once again claimed a Nobel Prize. This time, it was the field of Physiology or Medicine, through Omura Satoshi: a professor emeritus from Kitasato University. Omura Sensei received the most prestigious award that can be given to an individual with a huge contribution to the world, together with William C. Campbell and Tu Youyou on October 5th, 2015.
Through decades of research (since the 1970s) Omura Satoshi has been collecting data from a series of soil samples in different locations, taking microbes from these samples in which he studied the usefulness of the chemical parts that these microbes produced. His discovery was a chemical called avermectin, he found it in the soil of Shizuoka, Japan.
The scientist then collaborated with a US pharmaceutical company together with William C. Campbell to develop a derivative of avermectin, which is ivermectin. This chemical was found to be effective in the treatment of River Blindness and other parasitic diseases. Today, the World Health Organization has made efforts to spread the newly made medicine for free to areas where River Blindness is common.
Born in 1935 in Yamanashi, Omura Sensei taught at a night school after he graduated from the University of Yamanashi while he was completing his PhD at the Tokyo University of Science. After he graduated, the scientist returned to his hometown and worked at the University of Yamanashi and Kitasato Institute. After that, he studied at Wesleyan University in the US before he returned back home to Kitasato University in 1975 to become a researcher.
He devoted almost 20 years of his career to the Kitasato Institute, and he even became the head of the institute. Aside from the Nobel Prize, Omura Sensei has also been the recipient of the Gairdner Global Health Award among his other recognitions and prizes.
Humble as he has always been, he quipped that “all the dirty work was done by the microbes” and that he did not do anything great. Omura Sensei will now join the ranks of the other Nobel Prize winners in Japan, which include ten for physics, seven for chemistry, three for physiology or medicine, two for literature and one for peace.