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Dolly the sheep cloner Keith Campbell dies at 58

The University of Nottingham says Keith Campbell – who rose to worldwide fame in 1997 – passed away last week.

Dolly the Sheep, pictured in 1998 with her own (naturally conceived) daughter Bonnie. Keith Campbell, the scientist who oversaw Dolly's own birth, has died.
Dolly the Sheep, pictured in 1998 with her own (naturally conceived) daughter Bonnie. Keith Campbell, the scientist who oversaw Dolly's own birth, has died.
Image: ROSLIN INSTITUTE/Press Association

THE BRITISH BIOLOGIST who oversaw the birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, has died at the age of 58.

The University of Nottingham announced the death of Campbell, its Professor of Animal Development, in a statement this morning. It did not disclose the cause of death, though he had suffered from arthritis and lung ailments.

Campbell rose to worldwide fame in 1997 when it was disclosed that, the previous year, he had overseen the birth of the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.

The sheep – named ‘Dolly’, after Dolly Parton, because the cell from which it was cloned was taken from a mammary gland – made headlines across the globe, and prompted a flurry of debate about the ethics of artificially creating creatures using the genetic materials of others.

The debate did not stop his career, however: in later years he successfully bred pigs and lambs using similar techniques, though always arguing that his accomplishments were not achievements in themselves.

The Guardian summarises that his research specialised in the medical application of embryonic stem cells, and recalls that he was one of the early proponents of such research and its ability to help humans grow new tissues and organs for use themselves.

It was through this logic that the Dolly achievement was so remarkable: the adult cell from a sheep’s udder was ‘starved’ of nutrients in a laboratory, the New York Times recalls, and that cell then regressed back into a juvenile state from which it could be transformed into other states.

About 300 of the juvenile cells were created and introduced into donor eggs; only a handful developed to the point where they could be implanted into surrogate ewes, and only one – Dolly herself – made it to birth.

In 2008 Campbell was awarded the Shaw Prize for medicine and life sciences – occasionally dubbed the ‘Nobel of the east’ – for his work in this field, now known as ‘cell differentiation’, alongside Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh embryologist who had worked alongside him on the Dolly project.

The duo was joined by a third winner, Shinya Yamanaka – who furthered the work on turning adult organ cells back into stem cells, and who only this week was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for that work.

Campbell is survived by a wife and two adult daughters. Dolly, the sheep that made him famous, predeceased him in 2003 when she was put down after developing a chronic lung disease.

Read: Pioneering stem cell work wins Nobel Prize for researchers

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Gavan Reilly

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