06 November, 2019 – Minister McHugh awards Professor William C Campbell Bursary

New scholarship to recognise the work of Donegal Nobel Prize winner awarded to Suaad Alshleh for her studies in Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI)

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (6th November 2019) awarded the Professor William C Campbell Bursary to RCSI medical student Suaad Alshleh.

The scholarship recognises the work of Nobel Prize winner Prof Campbell, from Ramelton, Co Donegal, whose research helped developed a drug treatment for River Blindness and saved the sight of millions of people around the world.

Minister McHugh said: “Our aim with the Bill Campbell bursary was first of all to recognise a Donegal man who worked to become a giant in the world of science and preventative medicine.

“But I also want to see us use Bill’s life, legacy and works to motivate the next generation of students to follow in his footsteps, to replicate his ambitions and dedication and to work to transform the lives of others.

“I am delighted to be able to offer the scholarship to Suaad Alshleh. She is an inspiration and I hope she enjoys her studies at such a prestigiuous institution as the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. Professor Campbell’s legacy is something that we should build on and by supporting students like Suaad and others in the coming years we can do that.”

Ms Alshleh said: “The Professor William C Campbell Bursary is an incredibly generous commemoration of a brilliant scientist that gives students from disadvantaged/DEIS backgrounds the opportunity to pursue third level education.

“As the first recipient of this award, I can only dream to, one day, have as far-reaching an influence on the world as Professor Campbell has had.

“And as a Syrian refugee, I‘m incredibly grateful for the Irish community as a whole for embracing me as one of their own and supporting and encouraging me, through initiatives like this, to realise my dream of studying medicine.”

The scholarship competition was open to students who completed their Leaving Certificate at a Deis school and were beginning 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.

Welcoming the announcement the Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. said: “I want to see target groups given more opportunity to reach their potential. The award of the first Professor Campbell Scholarship is a symbol of our work on this front and I wish Suaad and her family the best for the future.”

The Professor William C Campbell Scholar is eligible for a €5,000 annual bursary. They must have studied at least two science subjects at Leaving Certificate and 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.


Notes for Editors 

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