An Irish scientist has been awarded a Nobel Prize for Medicine after helping to secure free drugs in Africa to combat river blindness.
William C Campbell, from Ramelton in Co Donegal, was honoured alongside colleagues Satoshi Omura from Japan and Youyou Tu of China.
Together they were credited for their work in the fight against parasitic roundworms, which affect millions of people in Africa and Asia.
Professor Campbell and Omura were cited for their discovery of avermectin. It was from this that drugs were developed – based around the compound ivermectin – that helped fight the diseases that are caused by roundworms such as river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.
River blindness is an eye and skin disease caused by parasitic worms that are spread by black flies. The worms live just below the surface of human skin and make their way to their host’s eyes, causing blindness.
Lymphatic filariasis is an illness that causes swelling to the sufferer’s legs and genitals, leaving them disfigured or incapacitated.
Incidents of both of these diseases have fallen thanks to the work of 85-year-old Prof Campbell and his colleagues from Drew University, New Jersey.
Prof Campbell was instrumental in bringing together a collaboration between the World Health Organisation, pharmaceutical giant Merck and non-governmental organisations to make the drugs available for free to those that needed them.
Prof Campbell studied at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), who have spoken with pride about his magnificent achievement.
TCD Provost Patrick Prendergst said: “Professor Campbell was centrally involved in developing the cure against river blindness.
“In 1987 he spearheaded 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. Annually 25 million people are treated under this scheme preventing new cases of river blindness.”
Ireland’s Health Minister Leo Varadkar said Campbell’s honour marked a great day for Irish science.
Mr Varadkar said: “It’s a magnificent achievement for him and his colleagues. Prof Campbell’s work on developing the drug avermectin, which combats the roundworm parasite and other organisms, is already bringing benefits to people across the planet.”
Prof Campbell is the third graduate of TCD to receive a Nobel Prize. He follows in the footsteps of E.T.S. Walton, who split the atom, and Samuel Beckett for his contribution to literature.
He is one of many Irish scientists who have changed the world with their work. More about Irish scientists
Take a look at this video of Prof Campbell delivering a speech at Trinity College Dublin.