Skip to Content

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

Dolly the Sheep - Preserved.Dolly the Sheep - Preserved.
Professor Ian Wilmut with "Dolly", the world's first cloned sheep.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.”