Born: 18 September, 1951, in Blackpool
Died: 12 August, 2004, near Eyemouth, aged 52
THE sad, early death of Professor John Clark has robbed the British scientific community of an alert and imaginative mind. Clark had an ability to probe the unknown with rare foresight and insight.
As the director of the Roslin Institute, he carried out ground-breaking research into animal science and biotechnology. His work resulted directly in the birth of two sheep cloned from an adult and was deemed controversial by some in the non- scientific community: the institute, and Clark, often had to answer for its research in the press. However, Clark, a passionate and courteous man, argued with much clarity and dignity in support of his work and stressed the long-term benefits of the projects.
John Clark was educated at Barton Grammar School, in Lincolnshire, and read zoology at Christ’s College, Cambridge. In 1982, after a year travelling, Clark wrote his PhD on Satellite DNA at the Medical Research Council Unit, in Edinburgh. This was well received in academic circles and Clark was immediately asked to join John Bishop’s team at the Institute of Genetics, at Edinburgh University.
With Bishop, Clark mainly did research into the genes in the liver of mice. But in 1985, he was appointed to the Animal Breeding Research Organisation in Edinburgh where he led a team doing research into producing human proteins in sheep’s milk. They concentrated their energies on the production of alpha-I-antitrypsin protein, which is largely used in the treatment of cystic fibrosis.
From an early stage, Clark recognised its potential. He argued that to produce human proteins in an animal’s milk necessitated a manipulation of the DNA when it was introduced to animal embryos. The breakthrough came in 1990 when Clark announced the birth of Tracy. She was the first sheep to produce sufficient quantities of human protein in her milk and was the creation of transgenic technologies.
The birth of Tracy established the Roslin Institute as a pioneer in animal biotechnology and also brought Clark to the forefront of the scientific world. He was the acknowledged authority on a completely new form of technology and, when interviewed, spoke in a down-to-earth and direct manner. He was never patronising nor did he give the impression of being a learned academic who found media interviews trivial and unnecessary. On the contrary, he was articulate and charming.
Throughout the early Nineties, Clark developed the cloning techniques and researched further the genetic changes in animals - he had been appointed head of the genetic department in 1993 and oversaw the institute’s advanced and complex programmes researching into human stem cells. In 1996, the institute transplanted the DNA of an adult sheep into an unfertilised eggshell and the result was Dolly the sheep. The birth, again, created worldwide interest and created new opportunities in research and regenerative medicine.
Once again, Clark was thrust into the limelight and he succeeded Professor Grahame Bulfield as director of the Roslin Institute in 2002. Clark, with typical modesty, simply commented that he was "looking forward to the challenge of leading the Institute". His undoubted energies and perceptive thinking led him to create three subsidiaries (PPL Therapeutics, Rosgen and Roslin Biomed).
An American company acquired the last named company in 1999 - thus helping fund further expansion. PPL, which concentrated on a wound sealant, was forced into voluntary liquidation a year ago. Sadly, the Roslin building which had at one time employed over 150 people was put on the market in December of last year.
Although Clark had, with his usual dedication and enthusiasm, recently been carrying out research into the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, the pressures had obviously taken their toll. He had, it is thought, been suffering from depression and his body was found in the garage of the family cottage at Cove, near Eyemouth.
Prof Clark was appointed an OBE in 1997 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1999. He was a man of much patience, courtesy and grace. One of his great pleasures was the remote house he maintained on the Isle of Colonsay, in the Inner Hebrides. There he found the peace and tranquillity to walk and consider many of his scientific projects.
Clark is survived by his wife and their two sons.