Honorary degree recognises Professor Iain Campbell’s distinguished career
Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry Iain Campbell has been presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of St Andrews in a ceremony that took place at the end of November 2012.
Professor Iain Campbell with Professor Jim Naismith from the School of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews (left) who gave the laureation address at the honorary degree ceremony. Photo courtesy of the University of St Andrews.
The award recognises his pioneering development and application of NMR to study the structure of proteins. His elucidation of the structure of epidermal growth factor in 1987, regarded as a landmark in life sciences, was the first NMR protein structure to be determined in the UK and one of the first in the world.
The University of St Andrews is Professor Campbell’s alma mater where he completed a BSc and then PhD in Physics. As a student, he and others built some of the very earliest electron spin resonance machines using old radar equipment – an unconventional start to a career that would be devoted to the study of biology.
A job with Sir Rex Richards at Oxford gave Professor Campbell the opportunity to work with NMR. The technique had developed as a revolutionary method to look at atoms in chemicals and was becoming widely available. Aware of its limitations, Professor Campbell and others began to push these machines, taking some of the first proton spectra of living cells – a huge technical leap.
By the early 1980s, Nobel Laureate Kurt Wüthrich in Zurich had demonstrated that NMR could be applied to determine the structure of proteins. Building on this work, Professor Campbell carried out his notable work to determine the structure of epidermal growth factor.
Rather than continuing to develop NMR technology, Professor Campbell decided that he would turn his skills towards the biological sciences. With some key biological questions in mind, he shifted the focus of his research to the field of cell adhesion and signalling. The move proved highly productive and he has built up an enviable reputation in the field.
Since his initial work on epidermal growth factor, Professor Campbell has studied many different proteins which are involved in fundamental biological processes such as embryonic development, tissue repair and the immune system. His approach of using a wide range of biophysical methods – including NMR for which Oxford boasts excellent facilities - has allowed him to explore the structural basis underlying the regulation of these proteins which include integrins, talin, and filamin.
In addition to his prolific research output, Professor Campbell has made a valuable contribution to the mentoring and training of many scientists. His distinguished career has been recognised by many previous awards including election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1995 and his delivery of the 2006 Croonian Lecture.