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My Cardiff

Professor Anthony Campbell

Professor Anthony Campbell, Professor in Medical Biochemistry and Director of the Darwin Centre is one of lifeís genuine enthusiasts. He has pioneered the use of bioluminescent proteins and DNA to light up chemical reactions in live cells. His chemiluminescent technology has received the Queens Anniversary Prize and was selected as one of the top 100 inventions by universities in the past 50 years, now used in over 100 million clinical tests per year.

Professor Anthony Campbell

Professor Anthony Campbell

Iíve loved science and music all my life, and always believed in enthusing other people. When I was 10 years old, my parents let me build a lab at the top of the house which allowed me to do chemistry experiments. I remember doing my first lecture demonstration at the age of 12. While classmates gave talks about their holidays or how they had listened to the Olympics on the radio, I decided to set up an aerial around the room. Using my crystal set and the classroom board to draw a circuit board as means of an explanation, we were all able to hear BBC Radio 4.

I came to Cardiff University as a lecturer in 1970 after taking a first class degree and PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. There were quite a few of us from Cambridge who came to Cardiff. I remember talking to my uncle, deputy Director of the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth, about my interest in calcium in cells. He informed me that there was a luminous jelly fish there being studied to measure calcium in live cells, but they hadnít quite got it to work. I did some preliminary experiments, built a piece of equipment, and went down to Plymouth to meet the team. In order to measure calcium inside live cells using bioluminescence, it is necessary to get the protein that makes the light. When I began we didnít have the DNA, so I had to extract it from the jelly fish. I tried all sorts of different things to extract the protein from the jellyfish including changing the pH levels and it was on the last pH level I tried, that the screen was completely wiped out. It was certainly one of those Eureka moments. The luminometer I had built could detect an incredibly small number of molecules. It was very sensitive. When I came back from Plymouth and told my head of Department, Nick Hales, he was very enthusiastic about it and I ended up completely changing my research to concentrate on this myself. My medical colleagues thought I was completely mad. They thought that we had come from Cambridge to develop new clinical methods and understand disease mechanisms and there I was on the beach, collecting animals which emit light. The jelly fish gave me the idea that a flash was better than a glow, which was the key to using chemiluminescence in clinical tests. I also had the idea of developing a new approach to biochemistry, based on lighting up chemical reactions in live cells using bioluminescent proteins, and then the DNA from these animals. It led to 5 letters in Nature and 2 papers in Proc. Nalt. Acad. Sci.

Back then, I didnít have any track record in bioluminescence, any publications or grant funding. As I got publications and grants, what I had achieved was a great shock to people and quite a breakthrough. Not only, with colleagues, did we have these great patents and income from them, but I was also starting to write books, which were a way to leave my legacy to science and my institution. The first book I wrote was called ĎIntracelluar Calciumí. Years later, we won the Queens Anniversary Prize and a place in the Eureka top 100 inventions from Universities in the past 50 years. It was a huge success in the end but it took a lot of time and a lot of risks. !0 years ago I took another risk, to work on lactose intolerance. This has led to a new hypothesis for the cause of illnesses such as food intolerance, diabetes and some cancers.

Over the last 30 years Iíve also been engaging with the public; I am passionate about communicating cutting edge science to young people. I set up the Darwin Centre in 1994, which aims to bring science and entrepreneurship into everyday life, and meetings on natural history and evolution are regularly held. With the celebration of Darwin 200 next year, it will hopefully draw even more people together. Itís important for the future of Cardiff University that we maintain its traditional values such as scholarship and that it continues to employ staff who are really curious and truly passionate about their subjects, who can inspire the next generation. We must continue to engage with the public to explain why we do what we do in Universities, and thus contribute to the economic growth and wealth creation of Wales. There is so much inspiration to be drawn from the Welsh environment and Cardiff is changing all the time.

It is such a tremendous achievement, the way that Cardiff University has developed over the last 125 years and particularly within the last exciting 25 years. Itís gone from a moderate University to a University that has a genuine international reputation, perhaps even with the help of my work. The merger of the Medical College with Cardiff University has enabled me to develop good collaborations, particularly in the School of Pharmacy. The result is a University that Wales can be really proud of.

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