Campbell ‘delighted’ as he receives Nobel prize in Stockholm

Irish-born scientist accepts shared award for work on treatment of parasitic diseases

Nobel medicine or physiology laureate William C Campbell bows after receiving the award during a ceremony in Stockholm Concert Hall. Photograph: Jonas Ekstromer/Reuters

Nobel medicine or physiology laureate William C Campbell bows after receiving the award during a ceremony in Stockholm Concert Hall. Photograph: Jonas Ekstromer/Reuters


Irish-born scientist laureate William C Campbell has said he is “delighted” at sharing the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 2015, awarded in Stockholm on Thursday afternoon for his treatment of parasitic diseases.

Born in Derry and raised in Donegal, Dr Campbell studied at Trinity College Dublin and in the US, where he developed drugs that killed roundworm larvae and, the Nobel foundation said, had saved hundreds of millions from serious disease.

“The global impact of your discovery and the resulting benefit for mankind are immeasurable,” said the Nobel Foundation.

Some 800,000 people worldwide have been blinded or have impaired vision because of river blindness, caused by roundworm parasites, but full eradication is likely within a decade.

Watched by his family and dressed in white tie and tails, the smiling 85-year-old accepted the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden to trumpet fanfare.

Dr Campbell is only the second Irish-born laureate in science after Ernest Walton’s physics award in 1951. The prize comprises an 18-carat gold medal weighing 200g and a diploma. He also shares in one quarter of the 8 million kronor (€860,000) prize fund, as does co-researcher Satoshi Omura, who began the research. Chinese researcher Tu Youyou takes a half-share of the prize fund for her treatment against malaria.

At a post-ceremony banquet for 1,300 guests, Dr Campbell was seated opposite ECB president Mario Draghi and beside Ulla Löfvén, partner of the Swedish prime minister.

“It’s a wonderful time and I’m delighted to be here,” Dr Campbell told The Irish Times.

Trial-and-error research

Throughout Nobel Week in Stockholm, he urged a return to basic trial-and-error research that had lead to his Nobel Prize. Failing to do so, he warned, “we will never know what we are missing”.

“We need to get back to doing science the old-fashioned way, because that’s the way that brings results.” He also said he would visit Ireland “soon, to give my message on science”.

He is in Stockholm with his wife, Mary, their two daughters and two grandchildren. His brother Robert travelled from Donegal with his wife and friends.

Irish Ambassador to Sweden Orla O’Hanrahan said Ireland was “immensely proud” to have an Irish-born laureate in Stockholm.

“He represents a proud tradition of Irish-American researchers in the US, and of researchers at Trinity College Dublin,” she said, after presenting Dr Campbell with a collection of poems by Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s Nobel literature laureate in 1995.

The Nobel Foundation has awarded the prizes annually since 1901 in honour of Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel. Mr Nobel left his fortune to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”.

Some Nobel prizes have been awarded 573 times since then to a total of 874 individuals and 26 organisations.

At the awards ceremony Prof Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, stressed the need to “convey to young people that science is not just fun it is also rewarding”.

Other winners this year include, for economics, Scottish-born US economist Angus Deaton and, for literature, Ukrainian writer Svetlana Alexievich.

Earlier in Oslo, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian pro-democracy group “National Dialogue Quartet” for helping build democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

As Sweden – and Europe – grapples with a growing refugee crisis, a senior US official at the Nobel Prize reception pointed out that three of its four 2015 laureates this year – including Dr Campbell – were immigrants, and the fourth had immigrant parents.