20 May, 2019 - Minister McHugh announces establishment of Professor William C Campbell Bursary

New scholarship recognises the work of Donegal Nobel Prize winner in medicine and fighting river blindness disease 

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (20th May 2019) announced the establishment of a new scholarship for students with the Professor William C Campbell Bursary. 

The scholarship recognises the work of Nobel Prize winner Prof Campbell, from Ramelton, Co Donegal. The competition for the award will be open to students who completed their Leaving Certificate at a Deis school and are beginning their undergraduate studies in the 2019/2020 academic year. 

Professor Campbell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 for his development of a cure for River Blindness while working with pharmaceutical company MSD. 

The disease is caused by a parasitic worm. Prof Campbell’s treatment has saved the sight of hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Latin America and Yemen. 

Minister McHugh spoke to Professor Campbell at his home in the US to confirm the plans. 

The Minister said: “I am delighted to announce the establishment of a bursary to recognise a giant in the world of science and preventative medicine and a proud Donegal man, Professor William C Campbell. 

"The aim of the award is to encourage the next generation of students to strive to replicate achievements like Prof Campbell which have transformed the lives of millions of people across the world. 

“Professor Campbell is an inspiration. His life and his work has left a huge legacy and that is something I believe we need to build on.  We should have bigger ambitions than just one scholarship fund like this. I would like to see further scholarships created to honour the work, talent and legacy of all 11 Nobel laureates from our island. 

“I have had discussions with both the Royal Irish Academy and officials in the Department about ways to progress this ambition.” 

Welcoming the announcement the Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. said: “A priority for me as Minister of State for Higher Education is to provide target groups with more opportunities to reach their potential. Today’s announcement gives an important opportunity to students from Deis schools in furthering their scientific studies at third level. 

“This bursary recognises the work of a very important figure in the scientific field and I would encourage all eligible students to take advantage of this opportunity and apply for such an historic scholarship.” 

Under the Professor William C Campbell Bursary, students are eligible for consideration for a €5,000 annual bursary if they sat their Leaving Certificate in a Deis school.

The first round of applicants must have participated in the 2019 Leaving Certificate programme and be exempt from their Leaving Certificate fee.

Applications are necessary for the Professor William Campbell bursary and application forms are available at https://www.education.ie/en/Learners/Services/Scholarships/Scholarships-Bursaries.html or participating schools. 

The student must have studied at least two science subjects at Leaving Certificate and have applied to study an approved course leading to a primary degree in Zoology, Medicine, Physiology or Biomedical Sciences at undergraduate level in an approved Higher Education Institution. 

The bursary will be awarded to the applicant who has the highest number of marks on their exam papers in any combination of two science subjects counted for CAO purposes, one of which must be biology. 

The €5,000 in funding will be awarded to the successful applicant in each year of their studies at undergraduate level in either Zoology, Medicine, Physiology or Biomedical Sciences. 

Minister McHugh said: “Professor Campbell’s life’s work was ignited by an interest in worms as a child and the effect of fluke on cattle. I’m told he also had an inspiring teacher. I think we should be doing more, both in his home county and through schools, to honour Prof Campbell’s life and legacy and show budding scientists where their interests can take them. 

“Discussions are ongoing across Government and with education providers in Donegal and elsewhere to ensure we do that.” 


Notes for Editors 

Attached Picture - Prof William C Campbell in November 2017 at the RIA Discourse. Credit - Royal Irish Academy. 

Professor William C Campbell & MSD’s River Blindness Programme 

For centuries, river blindness plagued remote communities in Africa, Latin America and Yemen with no cure.  In the 1970s, Professor William C. Campbell, a scientist born and raised in Ramelton, Donegal, working with MSD, and Japanese microbiologist Satoshi Omura cultured bacteria, which produce substances that inhibit the growth of other microorganisms.  

In 1978 Professor Campbell successfully purified a substance, which in a chemically modified form, proved effective against river blindness. In 1987, MSD committed to donating this treatment - as much as needed for as long as needed - with the goal to help eliminate river blindness. 

In 1998 MSD further expanded its commitment to include donating this treatment for use for another disease, lymphatic filariasis (LF) in African countries and Yemen where it co-exists with river blindness and in November 2017, the programme was expanded to reach up to an additional 100 million people per year through 2025 as part of the global effort to eliminate lymphatic filariasis (LF). 

Thirty years since first commencing the results of the MSD programme speak for themselves:

  • With more than 2 billion treatments having been donated to more than 146,000 communities in 29 countries in Africa, six countries in Latin America, and in Yemen.
  • River blindness transmission has been interrupted - meaning no new cases have been identified - in four of the six affected countries in Latin America and regions in five African countries.
  • The program reaches more than 250 million people annually and is the longest-running, disease-specific drug donation program of its kind. 

In 2015, Professor Campbell and Satoshi Omura were jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery. 

Prof Campbell, born in 1930, was home schooled as a child before going to Campbell College in Belfast and graduating from Trinity College. He went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now lives in the US. 

The treatment for River Blindness paralyses and kills microfilariae, relieving intense skin itching and halting the progression towards loss of sight. It also prevents adult worms from producing more microfilariae for a few months following treatment, so reduces transmission. 

The Royal Irish Academy have produced the following discourse with Prof Campbell https://soundcloud.com/the-royal-irish-academy/finding-medication-river-blindness-ivermectin-and-beyond?in=the-royal-irish-academy/sets/academy-discourse-series