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Cancer researcher wins US award

By Wang Hongyi | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-15 07:26

A Chinese scientist has received an award in the United States for his research into the effect of a traditional Chinese medicine in treating a deadly form of leukemia.

Chen Zhu, a professor of molecular biology at Shanghai Institute of Hematology, part of Shanghai Jiao Tong University's School of Medicine, received the 2016 Ernest Beutler Lecture and Prize from the American Society of Hematology in San Diego, California, along with Hugues de The, a professor of cellular and molecular oncology at the College de France and at Hospital Saint-Louis in Paris.

Chen, a former Chinese health minister, and his research team carried out targeted therapies using all-trans-retinoic acid and arsenic trioxide on patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a malignant hematologic disease with a high mortality rate.

Arsenic trioxide, called pishuang in Chinese, is known for its extensive use in Chinese literature as a murder weapon. But in recent years, it has been used to treat cancer and other conditions.

Chen's research represents a combination of TCM and Western medicine, since pishuang also was mentioned in ancient TCM texts as a treatment for cancer.

This is not the first breakthrough in medical science resulting from a combination of Eastern and Western medicine.

Last year, pharmacologist Tu Youyou became China's first Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine for her discovery of the anti-malaria treatment artemisinin. She said her work was also inspired by TCM.

Chen's novel treatment strategy increases the five-year event-free survival rate of acute promyelocytic leukemia to more than 90 percent, amounting to an almost "curable" standard, he said. He added, however, that there is more work to be done.

"Thirty years ago, APL was among the most dreaded and lethal forms of leukemia. Today, it is among the most curable, thanks to the outstanding contributions of doctors De The and Chen," Charles S. Abrams, president of American Society of Hematology, said in a statement.

"Together, their work to understand APL from a molecular level, and then applying those insights to discovering groundbreaking treatments, has significantly improved patient outcomes. Doctors De The and Chen's accomplishments are highly regarded in our field, and I am honored that the Society has chosen them to give one of our most prestigious lectures."

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