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Wilmut, Ian, Sir, 1944-: (professor of reproductive science, University of Edinburgh)

 Person

Ian Wilmut was born on 7 July 1944 in Warwickshire. He studied embryology at Nottingham University, receiving his BSc in 1967. In 1971 he received a doctorate from Cambridge University for his thesis 'Deep freeze preservation of boar semen.' From 1971 to 1973 he worked on a post-doctoral fellowship with E.J.C. Polge and L.E.A. Rowson at the ARC Unit of Reproductive Physiology and Biochemistry at Cambridge. This work developed the first methods for the deep freeze storage of mammalian embryos, and led to the birth in 1973 of 'Frosty the Calf', the first mammal to be born following the transfer of frozen and thawed embryos. Frosty's birth made national news.
In 1973 Wilmut joined Edinburgh's Animal Breeding Research Organisation, where he carried out research with sheep and pigs to identify the developmental and physiological causes of prenatal death. By 1985, Wilmut was co-leader, with Anthony John Clark, of a project to produce transgenic sheep which could express human therapeutic proteins in their milk. The first sheep to successfully produce clinical amounts of such a protein was 'Tracy', born in 1990. Following Tracy, Wilmut and colleagues went on to systematically examine the factors influencing the development of cloned embryos. This research led in 1995 to the birth of Megan and Morag, the first mammals to be cloned from differentiated embryos grown in culture. In 1996, Wilmut led the team which produced Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult body cell. The cloning method of nuclear transfer was then used to introduce precise genetic changes in the sheep, and research was carried out to understand the basic mechanisms regulating the development of cloned embryos and to develop biomedical applications of the nuclear transfer procedure, including developing organs for xenotransplantation, deriving human cells for therapeutic use and cloning and modifying animals for agricultural benefit.
From 1998-1999, Wilmut served as scientific director of Roslin Bio-Med, a company established to exploit the cloning technology developed during the 'Dolly' research. After Roslin Bio-Med was acquired by the US-based company Geron Corporation in 1999, Wilmut became head of Geron-funded research at Roslin Institute.
In 2000 Wilmut became head of department for Gene Expression and Development, Roslin Institute. In 2005 he was made Professor of Reproductive Science at the University of Edinburgh. In 2006, he founded the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and served as its first director until 2011. The mission of the Centre is to develop new treatments for human disease through innovative research with stem cells. Research spans the development and differentiation of these cells, their isolation and maintenance and uses in drug discovery and cell therapy. Wilmut's own research includes the development of new methods for changing cells from one tissue to another and exploring the epigenetic mechanisms in early embryo development and during reprogramming of somatic cells.
In 2011 Ian Wilmut became Chairman of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh, a flagship research building for regenerative medicine in Scotland, and was given the title Professor Emeritus by the University.
Ian Wilmut is the recipient of six honorary degrees and many prizes and awards, including the Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran Prize (1998), Sir John Hammond Memorial Prize (1998) Scotsman Innovator of the Year (2001) and the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Award (2005). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina and a Foreign Associate of the National Academies of Science USA. He has served as a member of various committees and panels, including the Society for the Study of Fertility (1985-1990), and was President of the International Embryo Transfer Society (1991-1995). He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility (1991-1997) and at the time of writing, is editor in chief of Cellular Reprogramming. Ian Wilmut was awarded the OBE in 1999 and was knighted in 2008.

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