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Happy birthday to the modest Donegal man who helped millions

Ireland's only Nobel laureate in medicine wonders if a drug he discovered years ago might be used to fight Covid, writes Prof Luke O'Neill

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PARTY: Bill Campbell pictured with Barack Obama in 2015

PARTY: Bill Campbell pictured with Barack Obama in 2015

PARTY: Bill Campbell pictured with Barack Obama in 2015

Today is the 90th birthday of Donegal man Bill Campbell. Who's that, I hear you say? Bill Campbell is Ireland's only Nobel laureate in medicine, which he won in 2015. No disrespect to Daniel O'Donnell or Packie Bonner, but he should be Donegal's most famous son. Why? His discovery of the medicine Ivermectin has saved millions of people from going blind in Africa and South America. Daniel, if you're reading, please sing The Hills of Donegal for Bill's birthday!

Farmers everywhere would be familiar with Ivermectin. It's used to treat cattle and sheep who are afflicted with parasites such as roundworm or liver fluke. It kills these parasites and has saved the agricultural sector millions each year because it keeps these animals healthy. Ivermectin is also used to treat dogs infected with heartworm, which can be fatal. Dogs are so important to so many people that, indirectly, this benefits humans, too.

But Bill didn't win the Nobel Prize for the use of Ivermectin in animals. He won it because he realised that it might also work for humans who have a parasitic disease. The disease is called River Blindness, it occurs in Africa and South America, and is caused by a parasite called Onchocerca volvulus, which burrows into people's eyes and makes them go blind.