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Monday 5 December 2016

I'll always be a boy from Donegal, says Professor Bill after winning Nobel Prize

Greg Harkin

Published 06/10/2015 | 02:30

Professor Bill Campbell, Ireland’s latest Nobel Laureate.
Professor Bill Campbell, Ireland’s latest Nobel Laureate.
Bert and Anne Campbell at their home in Ramelton

An 85-year-old scientist from Co Donegal thought he was the victim of a prank when told he had won the Nobel Prize for medicine.

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Professor William C ­Campbell, originally from Ramelton, and Professor Satoshi Omura were jointly awarded the prize for ­discovering a drug which fights infections caused by roundworm parasites.

The drug, Avermectin, has radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis. The drug has also shown effectiveness against a growing range of other parasitic diseases.

Health Minister Leo ­Varadkar said the professor's work "is already bringing benefits to people across the planet".

The professor said: "I'm ­immensely proud of my ­Donegal roots, I'm a Donegal boy and proud to be a Ramelton boy. It was a great place to grow up and was a great start to life.

"I begin every lecture by showing a picture of The Mall in Ramelton and then a ­picture of cows on The Mall, my ­father's cows, and students always ask about it. Of course it has ­absolutely nothing to do with the lecture, but I like to tell people where I'm from because it is such a part of me."

He said he was shocked when a journalist broke the news of his win to him yesterday morning.

"I thought it was a joke when I was first told about the (Nobel) prize. I was a bit shocked to be honest. It's a great thrill and I'm delighted for everyone involved in this research," he said.

Professor Campbell is currently a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in New Jersey in the United States.

His proud big brother, Bert (88), said Bill "got all the ­family brains" and put his efforts down to hard work and home ­schooling.

Bert, who runs the Ardeen country house B&B in ­Ramelton with his wife Anne, joked: "My father had a run-in with the local school principal so he brought a teacher in to teach us at home.

"We are so proud of Bill and it was wonderful talking on the phone to him about it. His work has made life-changing differences to so many people around the world."

The boys and their late ­brother, Lexi, were all sent to boarding school at Campbell College Belfast by their father, who ran the general stores in Ramelton in the 1930s.

Sister-in-law Anne added: "He was here for a week three years ago when he was ­given an honorary doctorate by ­Trinity for his discoveries. It's a ­wonderful day for the whole family."

Patrick Prendergast, provost of Trinity, said Professor Campbell "spearheaded the decision by Merck to distribute a cure free to millions of people". More than 25 million people are ­treated every year with Avermectin.

Irish Independent

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