Nobel Laureate Dr. William C. Campbell: A man of character, passion and art

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Edgewood Retirement Community spotlights the life, career, and many contributions of resident Dr. William C. Campbell, recently named a recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Nestled amongst almost 300 acres of conservation land and nature preserve on the shores of Lake Cochichewick, Edgewood Retirement Community is a picturesque, Shaker-style enclave more reminiscent of a quaint New England village than what one might normally think of as a retirement community. Residents — called members here — are an active lot who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with lists of accomplishments and resumes that would impress, but are rarely flaunted.

Recently, however, the community was set abuzz by the news that one of its members is the recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Dr. William C. Campbell, known to his friends as Bill, is a parasitologist who spent a storied career of more than 30 years at Merck Research Laboratories, where he made several discoveries that advanced the study of parasites and parasitic diseases. Chief among his accomplishments — and the subject of his Nobel Prize — was his role in developing the medication that treats onchocerciasis, or River Blindness. A debilitating and disfiguring disease caused by a parasitic worm found primarily in central and western Africa, onchocerciasis is the second most common cause of blindness due to infection.

A noble mission
Just as remarkable as his discovery is the character of the man himself. When Campbell realized that the compound he was investigating for use in animals might be the answer to River Blindness in humans, he wrote a memorandum to the then head of the Merck Research Laboratories. Even if his hypothesis were correct, the development of the drug was a long shot that would cost the company millions of dollars to develop for human use and conduct trials in the Third World. Moreover, even if a safe and effective drug could be produced, almost none of the people affected with river blindness would be able to afford it. Campbell’s memorandum started a process that not only led to the development of Mectizan® (ivermectin), but also to a donation program through which Merck has distributed the medication free of charge to the people who needed it, as long as they needed it. Through an international partnership with The Carter Center, three countries — Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico — have received official verification of onchocerciasis elimination since 2013.

A life-long passion
Campbell’s interest in parasites began at an early age, when he was a child growing up in Donegal, Ireland. “I sometimes think I was born interested in parasites,” he says, adding that he remembers attending an agricultural show in Belfast and bringing home a pamphlet about a drug to treat parasites in sheep. “I was immediately fascinated by that,” he recalls.

While he retired from Merck in 1990, Campbell was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2002 and remains active in his field. He continues to support and inspire students, serving as a Fellow in the Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (RISE) — a program at Drew University in Madison, NJ, that pairs undergraduates with eminent scientists. He also remains an active and ardent supporter of The American Society of Parasitologists, often donating his paintings — which tend to set off bidding wars — to raise money to support graduate students in attending the Society’s meetings.

Yes, Nobel Laureate Campbell is also a prolific artist and poet. And his favorite subject matter is, as one would expect — parasites. He is an avid painter of colorful pictures that have been called “parasite surrealism,” and writes thought-provoking poems that explore the complex interrelationship of parasites, humans and society.

A rich life
Some may find it surprising that Campbell and his wife of more than fifty years choose to live in a retirement community. Yet Campbell says the lifestyle has exceeded his expectations. “My wife and I love the physical and mental activities offered at Edgewood. There are all kinds of projects and committees one can serve on. We enjoy the culture of continuous learning, the friendliness of the residents and staff, the country location that gives us access to the lake, the woods, walking trails, and more — we are very happy here.”

The affection is mutual. During a reception given in his honor at Edgewood Retirement Community on Wednesday, October 21, close to 100 of Dr. Campbell’s fellow residents, friends and staff members showed their support and appreciation for his life, work, and friendship. In her remarks, Edgewood President and CEO Marlene Rotering noted “I’ve heard it not once but many times: it couldn’t have happened to a nicer man! We are so grateful to Dr. Campbell for his many contributions — not only to our community as an active member and frequent lecturer in the Edgewood Lifelong Learning program, but also to the betterment of humanity and the world.”

Kathleen Damico
Marketing Director
Edgewood Retirement Community, Inc.
Telephone: (978) 738-401
Email: damicokathleen(at)EdgewoodRC(dot)com


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