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Friday 23 June 2017

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

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

Greg Harkin

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.

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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