At the Nobel Prize award ceremony held on 2015 December 10, in Stockholm’s Concert Hall, two Asian scientists from Japan and China were in the limelight. Awarded in Physiology or Medicine were: Satoshi Omura Distinguished Emeritus Professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences in Japan; Dr. William Campbell, former Research Director of Merck & Co., Inc.; and Professor Tu You You from China. Dr. Omura and Dr. Campbell were awarded for discovering ivermectin, a remedy for onchocerciasis or river blindness prevalent in the tropics of Africa. Professor Tu was awarded for discovering effective therapy to treat malaria. Each winner stepped forward to receive their medals and the diploma from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf. The moment they were bestowed with the medal and diploma, a loud fanfare echoed in the background and a thunderous applause broke out.
Prior to the ceremony, each prize winner delivers a lecture about the achievements made in the award-winning subject. It is called the "Nobel Lecture", and Dr. Omura gave a very profound lecture. Researcher from around the world including Swedish researchers and students were deeply impressed.
Dr. Omura described his research which led to the development of ivermectin, the anti-parasite remedy. From among the chemicals created by microbes, Dr. Omura sought to find substances that are useful for human beings.
Research methods may seem simple, but screening a huge amount of strains efficiently and finding a beneficial substance required teamwork.
Dr. Omura, carefully explained the process of how he formed his research team by taking into account the strengths of his collaborators.
At the end of the lecture, Dr.Omura discussed his "research philosophy." "I am always convinced that nature is always prepared to provide answers to all our challenges and needs," he said.He also introduced the notion of "one encounter, one chance", a Japanese tea ceremony concept telling us that each moments are never the same.
At the end of his lecture, Dr Omura presented us with his "research philosophy." He told the audience that "each research method was always carried out in the belief that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance." In any event, exact same situations may never occur again.
Therefore it is important to seize the opportunity whenever it arises.
It is important to maintain deep respect and compassion to research collaborators and the same attitude applies to microorganisms we work with."
By quoting his own words spoken in the early 1970s, Dr. Omura mentioned that there is still a huge research challenge lying in front of us. "Microorganisms do not create useless metabolites. We still do not know how beneficial microorganisms can be to human beings." Dr William Campbell of U.S. and Professor Tu You You from China who jointly received the prize also spoke about their research leading to the prize.
In this series, we will introduce Dr. Omura’s life as a researcher. Dr. Omura was born as the eldest son of a Japanese farming family. After graduating from college, he became a high school night course teacher in physics and chemistry.
When he took a close look at his student who did not even have time to wash his hands soiled from oil, he became ashamed of the fact that he did not study much when he was in high school. In the wake of this, he decided to study and learn again.
After that, Dr. Omura becomes a student at University of Yamanashi, and goes on to study chemistry at the graduate school of Tokyo University of Science.
Then he becomes a research associate at University of Yamanashi, and then a researcher at Kitasato Institute to study microorganisms and chemistry. Making a career change from a faculty member of night high school to researcher, Dr. Omura travels to the U.S to gain more experience.
After returning home, he discovers many useful chemicals and receives the Nobel Prize. It will be my great pleasure to introduce our readers to his dramatic life story.