On October 5, William C. Campbell MS’54, PhD’57 was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for helping combat infections caused by roundworm parasites. Campbell shares the prize with Satoshi Ōmura of Japan and Youyou Tu of China.
Campbell and Ōmura’s work led to the discovery of the drug avermectin and its derivatives, which have dramatically reduced cases of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis. These diseases affect millions of people in tropical regions, which are some of the most impoverished areas in the world.
Tu discovered artemisinin, a drug used to combat malaria.
Avermectin was shown to be highly effective in fighting parasites in domestic and farm animals. Ivermectin, a chemical modification of avermectin, was later shown to control the parasitic larvae that lead to human diseases. Ivermectin was introduced for use in humans in 1982 and has been widely available ever since. As a result of Campbell’s work and discovery, river blindness has nearly been eradicated and doctors have helped millions of individuals with lymphatic filariasis.
“On behalf of UW-Madison alumni, congratulations to William C. Campbell on this extraordinary achievement,” said Paula Bonner, president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. “Through this high honor, we continue to see how vital the Wisconsin Idea is in helping make a difference in the lives of people around the world.”
Born in Ireland, Campbell earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Dublin’s Trinity College in 1952 before attending the UW. He worked at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research from 1957 to 1990 and served as a senior scientist and director for assay research and development from 1984 to 1990. Currently, Campbell is a research fellow emeritus at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.
Campbell’s is the fourteenth Nobel Prize awarded to UW-Madison alumni. A further seven have been received by UW faculty.