Could a Donegal scientist's work help in the battle to overcome Covid-19?

Could a Donegal scientist's work help in the battle to overcome Covid-19?

Professor William Campbell

The work of a renowned Donegal scientist could offer some hope in the battle to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nobel Laureate, Professor William C Campbell has been instrumental in developing a drug that will undergo a clinical trial to see how effective it is in the battle against Covid-19, according to a report in today’s Irish Independent.

Ivermectin is commonly used by farmers to treat roundworm in cattle and sheep, but it is also used in the treatment of parasitic infections in humans, such as in the treatment of head lice.

It is understood that the drug is at the centre of a trial by French researchers.

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Professor Campbell is originally from Ramelton, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 2015.

Last year, plans were announced to honour Professor Campbell with a bronze statue in Ramelton, and it is hoped to get it erected in time for his 90th birthday in June.

The plan for professor Campbell's birthday is being developed under the Bill Campbell Legacy Project spearheaded by the Ramelton Town Hall Development Company.  

The plan has the backing of leading academic institutions, including the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), Letterkenny IT and other universities, Donegal County Council and businesses.

When the plan was announced, Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh said: “For people who aren’t familiar with Professor Campbell, his life’s work is a truly remarkable story. We are talking about one of the most inspirational people on the planet. He has arguably done more for humanity than any other Irish person.

“When we think of the Irish diaspora, and the mark that our country has left around the world, Professor Campbell is up there with the best of them. His childhood on the farm in Ramelton, his education and passion for science and his commitment to research, led to hundreds of millions of people being saved from the horrific disease that is River Blindness,” he said.

Born in Ramelton in 1930, William Campbell was educated in Campbell College, Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin where he studied Zoology. His passion for science was said to have been sparked by a fascination with worms on his family farm in Donegal.

He went on to the University of Wisconsin on a Fulbright Scholarship, earning his PhD degree in 1957 for work on the liver fluke, a parasite affecting sheep, cattle and also human populations.

From 1957 to 1990 Professor Campbell worked at Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research, specialising mostly in parasitic diseases, including on the development of the drug ivermectin for the control of parasitic infections in veterinary medicine. 

He had the vision to realise that it could control parasitic disease in humans. It was ground-breaking. Merck began successful trials in 1981 on River Blindness in Senegal and France. 

The research had created a new class of drugs for the treatment of parasites.

With the unwavering support of Professor Campbell and his colleagues, Merck and the World Health Organization created an unprecedented drug donation programme, providing Mectizan to developing countries and in doing so eradicated River Blindness in parts of the world. It went on to be used to treat millions of people in 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. 

As of 2013, the Carter Center independently verified that the disease had been eradicated in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

In 2015, Professor Campbell and his co-discoverer, Professor Satoshi Ōmura, shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on therapies against infections caused by roundworm parasites.


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