Project 523, as it was called, resulted in one of the most significant advances in the treatment of malaria since the discovery and use of quinine over 300 years ago. The drug that was discovered – artemisinin from the plant Qinghao (Artemisia annua L) – is now the most widely used treatment for malaria in the world. But the path to this drug was not an easy one. It began with a request from the North Vietnamese Government to Mao Zedong in China, for assistance in managing drug-resistant malaria affecting their military forces during the Vietnam-American War. The project became so large that it ultimately involved more than 500 scientists and 60 institutions throughout mainland China.
This achievement is all the more remarkable because it was carried out during the Cultural Revolution using obsolete equipment. Scientists were harassed and denigrated, and academic and intellectual activity was discouraged or even forbidden during this period in China. Yet the result has changed the treatment of malignant malaria, a frequently fatal disease.
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A DETAILED CHRONOLOGICAL RECORD OF PROJECT 523 AND THE DISCOVERY AND DEVELOPMENT OF QINGHAOSU (ARTEMISININ)
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About the Author: Chinese Editor Zhang Jianfang was the principal administrator of Project 523. He is now 87 years old, retired, and lives in Beijing. He participated in the Chinese Revolution in 1940 at the age of 15. In 1959, he was assigned to the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Military Medical Science Academy of the People’s Liberation Army. From the inception of Project 523, he directed its activities until 1980, and then returned to the Military Medical Science Academy where he was appointed Vice Director of the Academy Affairs Department.
About the Translator: Keith Arnold of Northern California was the first Western medical scientist to be informed about and to publish on qinghaosu (artemisinin)
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