Nobel Prize winner Professor William C Campbell awarded SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal
Posted on: 16 March 2021
Nobel Prize-winner and Trinity alumnus, Professor William C Campbell, was today awarded the prestigious Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) St Patrick’s Day Science Medal for Academia.
Now in its eighth year, the Medal is awarded annually to US-based scientists, engineers or technology leaders with strong Irish connections, as chosen by an independent selection committee, to recognise their significant contributions to academia and industry and their roles in supporting and engaging with the research ecosystem in Ireland.
Professor Campbell won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for developing the drug Ivermectin that has almost eradicated river blindness. This work, carried out at Merck pharmaceuticals, was a direct extension of his education in parasitology in the Zoology department at Trinity.
Professor Campbell, whose interest in parasitology grew while he studied zoology at Trinity under the guidance of well-known parasitologist, Desmond Smyth, said:
I am profoundly grateful and honoured to accept the 2021 SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal – an honour that is exceptional both in its rarity and in its conception. It recognises scientific work that is carried out far beyond the recipient’s homeland, and at the same time it celebrates the indissoluble ties that bind the distant worker to his or her native shore.
I learned about parasitic diseases, first in Belfast, then in Dublin, and then in my adopted home in America. Through it all, my roots in Ireland were never forgotten. I have had the good fortune to work both in industry and in academia, and to be associated with colleagues who made my work far more valuable than anything I could have done alone. It is my hope that US-Ireland partnerships continue to prosper for the benefit of science, both now and in the future.
You can listen to Prof. Campbell’s acceptance speech here.
River blindness is an eye and skin disease caused by a parasite that ultimately leads to blindness, which is prevalent in Africa and in parts of Central and South America.
Professor Campbell’s work in the development of ivermectin, a medication used to treat parasite infestations, helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis and led to his joint Nobel Prize, shared with Japanese scientist, Professor Satoshi Omura.
Professor Campbell’s work provided the basis for the decision by Merck to distribute that cure free to millions of people in what became one of the first and foremost examples of a public/private partnership in international health. Ivermectin is also currently being investigated as a treatment for coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
In late 2017, Professor Campbell returned to the Zoology Department at Trinity and donated his old dissection kit – bought as a student when he started at Trinity in the late 1940s – to the Zoological Museum. It will forever serve as a moving reminder that Trinity’s students go on to do remarkable things.
Just last year, Professor Campbell donated a collection of letters between himself and Desmond Smyth (his mentor at Trinity) to the Zoology department. The collection highlights a wonderful history of their continuing relationship down through the years after he left Trinity.
Professor of Zoology at Trinity, Yvonne Buckley, said:
Professor Campbell’s research career started as an undergraduate in the Zoology Department at Trinity and the support of his mentor at this time, Professor Desmond Smyth, was crucial in encouraging and facilitating his move to the USA to undertake his PhD in parasitology.
We are delighted that Professor Campbell has received this medal; he continues to inspire new generations of Zoology students to seek out solutions to critical global challenges through the study of animals and the natural world.
Also awarded an SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal was Mr Vincent T Roche, President and Chief Executive Officer of Analog Devices, Inc.
Congratulating the winners at a virtual presentation event, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said:
On behalf of the Government of Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, I am delighted to present the SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal to both Professor Campbell and Mr Roche, whose contributions have made immense societal and economic impact and changed the lives of millions of people. We are deeply proud of their inspirational achievements and leadership.
This prestigious prize highlights the enduring strength and profound connectivity of US-Ireland relations, which despite significant global challenges continue to grow from strength to strength. It is important that we both recognise our scientific heritage and look to the future. By placing research, development and innovation firmly at the heart of our economy, we can create new knowledge, better respond to societal needs and economic challenges, improve education, and increase the quality of our lives.
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