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If you like Ian Wilmut's story, you might also like:
Elizabeth Blackburn,
Linda Buck,
Francis Collins,
John Gearhart,
Susan Hockfield,
Willem Kolff,
Eric Lander,
Robert Lefkowitz,
John Sulston,
James Thomson,
James Watson and
Shinya Yamanaka

Ian Wilmut also appears in the video:
Frontiers of Medicine

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ian Wilmut in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Frontiers of Medicine

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Ian Wilmut
Ian Wilmut
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Ian Wilmut Biography

Pioneer of Cloning

Ian Wilmut Date of birth: July 7, 1944

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  Ian Wilmut

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Ian Wilmut was born in Hampton Lucey, England, and raised in the ancient town of Coventry, a medieval town devastated by German bombs during World War II. His childhood interest in the outdoors and farming led him to study agriculture at the nearby University of Nottingham. Summer internships focused his interest on embryology. He began to concentrate on animal genetic engineering and received his doctorate at the University of Cambridge in 1971. His thesis was on the freezing of boar semen. Since his postdoctoral work, he has been in the forefront of genetic research.

In 1973 he was part of the team that produced the first calf from a frozen embryo, an animal the team named Frosty. In 1974 he joined the Animal Breeding Research Station in Edinburgh, Scotland, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of Edinburgh. It is known today as the Roslin Institute.

A conversation in a pub in 1986 changed the course of his career. He was told that a Danish embryologist had succeeded in producing a lamb from the cells of an already-developing lamb embryo. Wilmut began to explore the possibility of cloning a lamb from cells of an adult sheep.

Ian Wilmut Biography Photo
When another laboratory produced a fraudulent report of the successful cloning of mice, funding for cloning research nearly dried up. Wilmut and his colleague, Keith Campbell, worked virtually alone, while the rest of the scientific community abandoned the concept.

In early 1996, Wilmut and his team at Roslin first succeeded in producing a pair of lambs, Megan and Morag, from embryonic cells. This accomplishment created a stir in the world of genetic science but scarcely caused a ripple among the general public. A very different reaction took place a little more than a year later. In February 1997, Wilmut announced the birth of a lamb called Dolly, named for country singer Dolly Parton. Unlike the previous clones, Dolly was created from the fusion of an ovum with the mammary cell of an adult sheep, creating a genetic replica of the original animal. The announcement created a sensation, and stirred fears in the general public that the cloning of a human being would be the next step, a development Wilmut opposes.

Ian Wilmut Biography Photo
Although Dolly the sheep died of a respiratory ailment in 2003, Dr. Wilmut continued his research as Chair of Reproductive Biology at the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh. His accomplishment had opened the door to the field of therapeutic cloning, the replication of animal embryos for research purposes. The cloning of animals holds out the promise of significant development for medicine. Proteins found in pig cells, for example, are identical to those found in human cells, and may enable the production of proteins needed for the treatment of hemophilia, or even the synthesis of donor organs for human transplant patients. Producers of milk and wool may also benefit from the cloning of the best strains of cows and sheep.

The derivation of pluripotent stem cells from human embryos, pioneered in the United States by James Thomson and John Gearhart, was a major breakthrough in the field. The practice also provoked a bitter controversy, and government funding for this research was suspended in several countries, including the United States. As the U.K.'s acknowledged leader in the field of therapeutic cloning, Ian Wilmut received a license in 2005 to clone human embryos for the purpose of culturing human stem cells. His specific goal was to investigate potential treatments for Motor Neuron disease, an incapacitating degenerative disorder.

Two years later, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Japan succeeded in programming skin cells from adult mice to revert to their pluripotent stem cell state. Dr. Wilmut was among the first to embrace Yamanaka's methods, and voiced his confidence that the technology involved would prove appropriate for human cells as well. Wilmut promptly announced that he was discontinuing his own work with human embryonic cells. He has proposed that pluripotent cells adapted from adult cells hold greater promise for the eventual treatment of Parkinson's, stroke and heart disease. The reversion of human adult skin cells to the pluripotent state is now a reality, and Wilmut has abandoned the nuclear transfer system used to clone Dolly in favor of the newer method. In 2008, Ian Wilmut was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to science.

This page last revised on Oct 25, 2010 13:25 EDT
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