Parkinson’s Pioneer Dr. Ian Wilmut Confirms He Has the Disease Himself

April 12, 2018, 8:59 PM UTC
Dolly the Sheep - Preserved.
Professor Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute pictured, with his old friend, "Dolly", the world s first cloned sheep, who died on February 14 this year, and has now been pickled and mounted on a straw-covered plinth and is on permanent display at Edinburgh s Royal Museum. * The birth of Dolly, on July 5, 1996, was heralded as a scientific landmark but triggered heated discussions about the ethics of cloning. She was named after country and western star Dolly Parton, because she was cloned from a ewe s mammary gland. 21/04/2004: Professor Wilmot told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme Wednesday April 21, 2004, that he is applying to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for the UK's first licence to clone human embryos. (Photo by Maurice McDonald - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Maurice McDonald—PA Images via Getty Images

The scientist who ushered in a new era of Parkinson’s disease research has reportedly been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder himself.

Dr. Ian Wilmut, 73, reportedly learned of his diagnosis four months ago, but publicly announced it on Wednesday, which was World Parkinson’s Day. He said he would participate in research projects — including the Dundee and Edinburgh Parkinson’s Research Initiative — aimed at finding new therapies for the currently incurable condition, which involves progressive nervous system damage that leads to losses in physical function, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Initiatives of this kind are very effective not only because they bring more people together, but because they will include people with different experience and expertise,” Wilmut said in a statement to the New York Times.

In 1996, Wilmut thrilled the scientific community when he successfully cloned an adult sheep, resulting in the birth of Dolly the sheep. The feat was an enormous scientific achievement of its own, but it also opened new avenues for medical research — specifically, through the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which can be manipulated to develop into virtually any form of tissue. These cells, in theory, could help repair tissues damaged by Parkinson’s, and are currently being used in clinical trials for that purpose, the Times notes.

Wilmut, who lives in Scotland and is a professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC that while his Parkinson’s diagnosis was “disappoint[ing],” he saw no reason to keep it a secret.

“I didn’t want to go around with a veil of secrecy around something, I’m not like that,” he said. “If it’s useful in any way to mention it, and in this research context it is, then I’m very happy to mention it.”

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