Professor John Clark (August 12, 2004)

Professor John Clark (August 12, 2004)

August 31, 2004
UK Telegraph

Professor John Clark, who has died aged 52, was an expert in animal science and biotechnology and the Director of the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh, where he developed techniques for the genetic modification of livestock; this work paved the way for the birth, in 1996, of Dolly the sheep, the first animal to have been cloned from an adult.

In 1985 Clark joined what was then known as the Animal Breeding Research Organisation in Edinburgh where he was put in charge of a project to produce human proteins (which could be used in the treatment of human diseases) in sheep's milk. Clark and his team focused their study on the production of the alpha-I-antitrypsin protein, which is used for treatment of cystic fibrosis.

The production of human proteins in another animal's milk requires the ability to manipulate DNA and introduce human gene sequences into animal embryos. At the time, such genetic modification was a great technical challenge. Thus when, in 1990, Clark announced the birth of Tracy, the first sheep to produce large quantities of human protein in her milk, it was a significant milestone in the development of transgenic technologies. It also helped to establish the Roslin Institute as a leading centre for research in animal biotechnology.

During the 1990s Clark continued to develop cloning techniques and to work on the production of precise genetic changes in animals other than mice. He and his colleagues were the first to produce a large animal from which a specific gene had been removed (a prion protein gene from a sheep). Then in 1996, building on much of Clark's work, scientists at Roslin successfully transplanted the DNA of an adult sheep to an unfertilised egg cell which had been previously emptied of its own genetic material. The result was the birth of Dolly the sheep.

John Clark was born at Blackpool on September 18 1951, but was brought up in Lincolnshire. He was educated at Barton Grammar School, Lincolnshire, before going on to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read Zoology. In 1975 he took an M Sc from the University of Western Ontario, where he studied development in the mud snail.

After a year spent travelling around America with his wife, Helen, Clark returned to Britain where he began working as a molecular biologist, completing a study on human satellite DNA for the Medical Research Council Clinical and Population Cytogenetics Unit in Edinburgh, by which he was awarded a PhD in 1982.

His first post-doctoral appointment was to study genes that function in the liver of mice with John Bishop in the Institute of Genetics, at Edinburgh University.

At the Roslin Institute Clark combined his work on the development of transgenic livestock with the establishment of the institute's research programme on human embryonic stem cells. His appointment as director of the institute in August 2003 was greeted with widespread approval.

At the time of his death he was working to derive liver cells and neurones from human embryonic stem cells for use in the testing of new drugs and in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, stroke and spinal cord injury.

Clark's considerable energy was combined with an entrepreneurial flair and he established three commercial companies - PPL Therapeutics, Rosgen and Roslin Biomed - based on the Roslin Institute's research. In 1999 Roslin Biomed was acquired by an American company, the Geron corporation, and it has since been at the forefront human stem cell research. PPL Therapeutics, which was set up in 1987, had recently been involved in the development of a wound sealant called Fibrin-1, but was forced into voluntary liquidation last year.

Clark was appointed OBE in 1997, and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1999. He also contributed to numerous scientific committees and working groups. He died on August 12.

Clark, who had a wide-circle of friends and enjoyed music, dancing and travel, was found dead at his holiday cottage in Berwickshire. He had recently been suffering from depression.

He is survived by his wife Helen, and their two sons.

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