An Taoiseach Micheál Martin presented the medals during a celebratory virtual event to mark the occasion of St Patrick’s Day and US-Ireland relations.
Now in its eighth year, the SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal is awarded annually to US-based scientists, engineers or technology leaders with strong Irish connections, as chosen by an independent selection committee, to recognise their significant contributions to academia and industry and their roles in supporting and engaging with the research ecosystem in Ireland.
Recipient of the SFI St Patrick’s Day Science Medal for Academia, Prof Bill Campbell was born in Derry and raised in Ramellton, Co.Donegal. He was educated at Campbell College Belfast and Trinity College Dublin, after which a Fulbright Travel Grant brought him to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, US, where he undertook a PhD on liver fluke. Prof Campbell is a Research Fellow Emeritus with Drew University, Madison, New Jersey in the US.
“I am profoundly grateful and honoured to accept the 2021 SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal – an honour that is exceptional both in its rarity and in its conception,” said Prof Campbell. “It recognises scientific work that is carried out far beyond the recipient’s homeland, and at the same time it celebrates the indissoluble ties that bind the distant worker to his or her native shore. I learned about parasitic diseases, first in Belfast, then in Dublin, and then in my adopted home in America.
“Through it all, my roots in Ireland were never forgotten. I have had the good fortune to work both in industry and in academia, and to be associated with colleagues who made my work far more valuable than anything I could have done alone. It is my hope that US-Ireland partnerships continue to prosper for the benefit of science, both now and in the future.”
River blindness is an eye and skin disease caused by a parasite that ultimately leads to blindness, which is prevalent in Africa and in parts of Central and South America. Prof Campbell’s work in the development of ivermectin, a medication used to treat parasite infestations, helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis and led to his joint Nobel Prize, shared with Japanese scientist, Prof Satoshi Ōmura.
Prof Campbell’s work provided the basis for 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. Ivermectin is currently being investigated as a treatment for coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.