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Prof. William C. Campbell, Nobel Laureate and honorary ISP member
Born in Derry/Londonderry in the 1930s, William (Bill) Campbell grew up in a small town in County Donegal called Ramelton, in the far north-west of Ireland. At the age of 13 he attended Campbell College in Belfast, where he had his first notable introduction to worms after he perused a leaflet about liver fluke at an outing to an agricultural fair. Encouraged by his biology teachers at Campbell College, Bill moved to Dublin to do science at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Despite rubbing shoulders with Ernest TS Walton, Nobel Laureate, in his physics classes, Bill was drawn to his passion, the natural sciences, where he was to excel. Moreover, it was in his biology classes where he fortuitously encountered the mentor who would have a major impact on his future direction, Prof. James Desmond (JD) Smyth, who was then a junior professor in zoology.
Lectures and mentorship from JD Smyth in parasitology lit the spark. Professor Smyth seemed to bring out the best in Bill and he became fascinated with worm parasites of humans, animals, and plants. He became intrigued by their biology, especially their interactions with their mammalian hosts.
"Parasites themselves are part of an ecosystem, just as we are. If you change something about an ecosystem, maybe seeking to remove a parasite, it could have unintended circumstances on other living organisms in that ecosystem. So, it is imperative that our goal is the absence of parasitic disease rather than the absence of parasites," WC Campbell, Catching the Worm.
JD Smyth recommended Bill to Prof. Arlie Todd at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was seeking talented students to pursue PhDs in his parasitology laboratory. Thus began Bill’s great American adventure! He relocated and worked hard, attended many lectures in veterinary science while pursuing a PhD investigating liver flukes, specifically the large flukes Fascioloides magna, common then in North American deer, sheep and cattle. Most importantly he deepened his knowledge and skills in field parasitology, matured as a scientist and developed his independence.
Although reluctant to move from academia to industry, Bill was persuaded by Prof. Todd to interview at Dr. Ashton C. Cuckler’s parasitology laboratory at the Merck Institute for Therapeutic Research (Merck & Co, Inc.), New Jersey, for a scientific position in drug discovery against schistosomiasis. Surprised and impressed by the set-up, the exciting research environment and the potential for new discovery, Bill started a career in Merck that would last for 33 years until his retirement!
“It has always been amazing to me how the really big decisions in life are brought about by chance,” WC Campbell, Catching the Worm.
In the early days at Merck, Bill spent much of his time working on his favourite flatworms, first schistosomes and then Fasciola hepatica, and was involved in the discovery of some major anti-helminthics such as the salicylamide Rafoxanide and the sulfonamide Clorsulon, both commercially successful anti-flukicides. But gradually he moved over to roundworms, first working with Trichinella, the parasite model that led the laboratory to a breakthrough in the discovery and development of Thiabendazole, a frontline treatment for roundworms in cattle and sheep, and then Haemonchus contortus, the barber pole worm.
In due course, another major discovery was on the horizon. Working with Prof. Satoshi Omura of the Kitasato Institute Laboratory, a biochemist/microbiologist who discovered many new compounds from soil microbes, the Merck team obtained a soil sample containing an unknown Streptomyces bacterium from which they isolated a powerful anti-parasitic, which Bill christened Avermectin ( a = not, verm = worm and ectin = ectoparasites!). Rounds of structural optimisation and anti-parasite screening led to the discovery of the now legendary Ivermectin.
First brought to market in 1981 as a preventative treatment for dog heartworm that could be administered safely at low doses either orally or as an injectable, Ivermectin was a major success. But at no point in its development was there a ’communal Eureka moment’, says Bill. However, a number of enlightened ‘hunches’ led to a series of trials that proved Ivermectin was also highly active against the larval stages of the species of filarial nematode Onchocerca that infect horses and cattle. Bill saw the next step clearly and convinced the senior management of Merck and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to progress the drug into human trials against the filarial O. volvulus, the larval forms of which cause serious skin and eye damage in humans and leads to the devastating ‘river blindness’. The first trials took place in Dakar, Senegal, 1981, and the rest is history – supported by the WHO, World Bank, charitable agencies like Sightsavers, and government and non-government organisations, Ivermectin has since been delivered to billions and now river blindness is certified as eradicated in Central and South America and vastly reduced in sub-Saharan Africa.
For their roles in the discovery of Ivermectin, Prof. William C. Campbell and Prof. Satoshi Omura shared the in 2015 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside Prof. Youyou Tu, China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who isolated and characterised the compound artemisinin from extracts of the sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) and led to the development of several current frontline anti-malarial drugs.
Prof. Campbell is a member of the Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (RISE) at Drew University, New Jersey, USA, and was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences in 2002. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, UK, and an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and The Irish Society of Parasitology.
Dalton JP. Extracted from his reflective autobiography ‘Catching the Worm’, by William C. Campbell.
Lawrence Theodore Threadgold (02nd
September 1927 - 13th Aug 2021).
Lawrence T. Threadgold was Professor of Parasitology in the Department of Zoology, Queen’s University, Belfast, from 1978 until his retirement in 1985, serving as Head of Department from 1979 until 1985. He first joined Queen’s University in 1956 as Lecturer in Zoology. He first joined Queen’s University in 1956 as Lecturer in Zoology but undertook a post-doctoral fellowship in the University of Western Ontario from 1956 until 1958, and a Lectureship in the Medical School of the University of Nova Scotia from 1958-1960, where his remit was Embryology. He was also honoured with a Visiting Fellowship to Rice University, Houston, Texas in 1967-68.
Entering Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1948, he enlisted as a student of Natural Sciences taking Geography, Geology and Zoology. Thanks largely to the enthusiastic and inspirational guidance of J. D. Smyth, who was at that time a Lecturer in Zoology with a fervent interest in parasite physiology, he chose to complete his BA in Natural Sciences by specialising in Zoology. Incidentally, in TCD he shared rooms with William C. Campbell, and both were to become lifelong friends. In due course Lawrence completed a PhD in avian reproductive physiology, before moving to Belfast to set up home there with his wife Jenny, a Trinity graduate with a particular interest in Modern Languages.
Lawrence’s output of high-quality research publications places him as one of the founders of modern Parasitology, a fact recognised by the British Society for Parasitology, in admitting him to the Honorary Membership, and by Trinity College, in the award of a DSc degree in 1976. He was rightly regarded as the world’s leading authority on parasite ultrastructure, and his numerous peer-reviewed publications are still widely quoted in reviews. His unique insight into fluke ultrastructure revealed that the surface layer of the parasite – that part in direct contact with the host tissues - is not, as had formerly been thought, an inert ‘cuticle’ like that of the nematode parasites. Instead, it is a living cytoplasmic layer, limited by a surface cell membrane, but lacking division into individual cells – technically a ‘syncytium’. Physiologically, it is highly active with numerous roles, allowing the parasite to survive in what is, in effect, a hostile environment. Subsequently, the surface specialisation of liver flukes has been shown to be shared by all other fluke and tapeworm parasites, including the highly pathogenic human blood flukes, the schistosomes, which are amongst most damaging and prevalent of human parasites in the tropics.
It is a feature of Lawrence’s publications that all are illustrated by exquisite line diagrams and electron micrographs of the highest quality that clarify complex anatomical details and relationships in a way that text descriptions cannot easily achieve. The high quality of his electron micrographs set the standard for international peer-reviewed publications in Parasitology at the time. Lawrence’s magnum opus was, however, the book he published in 1967, second edition in 1976, entitled ‘The Ultrastructure of the Animal Cell’ which lavishly illustrated by his enlightening diagrams, complementing his concise and elegant text.
Lawrence was an exceptional and inspiring teacher, and the kindest and most supportive advisor and colleague one could hope to have. He truly inspired a generation of scientists in his subject area, and his influence continues to the present. He will be long remembered for his seminal contributions to Parasitology, his wit, wisdom and conviviality as a teacher and supervisor.
By Prof. Robert (Bob) Hanna, Agricultural, Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Belfast, NI; Honorary Professor at Queen’s University Belfast.
Professor James Desmond Smyth (1917-99)
James Desmond Smyth was born in Dublin in 1917. Educated in Ireland, he graduated (BA, BSc) from Trinity College, Dublin (TCD) in 1940 and was awarded his PhD in 1942. Following a period as Lecturer in Zoology at Leicester and Leeds, he returned to Dublin and in 1955 was appointed to the Chair of Experimental Biology at TCD. His research led to the award of DSc in 1958.
Shortly after, he accepted a Chair at Canberra University College, which transferred to the Australian National University, in the School of General Studies. As the Foundation Professor of Zoology, he built up a department of international reputation. He was a founding member and third President of the Australian Society for Parasitology and the founding editor of the International Journal for Parasitology.
In 1970, he moved to Imperial College, London, to take up the prestigious Chair of Parasitology. He relinquished his Chair at the age of 65 in 1982 but retained the status of Emeritus Professor and transferred to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Senior Research Fellow.
The last 28 years of his life were his most productive scientifically and were recognised by an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Granada — an award which gave him great personal pleasure—and the Frink Medal of the Zoological Society of London.
he moved to Edinburgh, and continued working until almost the very end of his
life. He was survived by his wife Mim and his two sons, Christopher and Dermot.
Known as Desmond or JD to his friends and colleagues, he was at once the most reserved yet most approachable of men. His staff admired him for his gentleness of character and how he fiercely championed his Department. However, left to himself, he preferred to remain in his laboratory pursuing his personal research vision.
Prof. Smyth devoted all his efforts to cultivating parasitic worms in the laboratory so that he could better study their developmental biology and physiology. The results of his work are recorded in more than 100 scientific papers and six books. One of these, Introduction to Animal Parasitology, has been continuously in print since 1962, a remarkable achievement for a scientific textbook.
In his ‘In Memoriam’ to JD Smyth in 1999, William C. Campbell, wrote ‘…he brought great intellectual gifts and experimental ingenuity to the field of Parasitology: he taught and inspired innumerable parasitologists in person and through his writings. He was an outstanding person in and out of the laboratory. He is a life worth remembering.’
Dalton JP. Information for this article was extracted from C.Bryant and R.E. Barwick, ANU Reporter, 7 April 1999, p2 (https://oa.anu.edu.au/uploads/obituaries/925/smyth_james_obit_1999.pdf) and William C. Campbell memoriam, James Desmond Smyth, Honorary member, ASP, J. Parasitology Vol. 85(5), 992-993. October 1999.