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Bemidji graduate Peter Crompton leads research team at National Institutes of Health - InForum

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The latest breakthrough in a quest to prevent malaria can be traced to a biology lab at the former Bemidji High School.

Peter Crompton, a BHS graduate in 1989, is leading an international team of researchers who have developed an antibody that protects against malaria infections during the six-month rainy season in the West African republic of Mali.

The result, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, lays the groundwork for a new tool to help beat a parasitic disease that last year killed more than 600,000 people, mostly children.

Crompton, 51, is chief of the biology and immunity section of malaria infections at the National Institutes of Health. A graduate of Boston University and Johns Hopkins Medical University, he says his career spark was ignited during his sophomore year of high school when he took a biology class taught by Bruce Algaard.

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Teacher Bruce Aalgaard stands behind students, left to right, Peter Crompton, Wayne Hanschen and John Clay in an anatomy class at Bemidji High School.


“The most influential teacher for me in high school was Mr. Aalgaard,” Crompton said. “He was just really excited to teach us biology. It was infectious, no pun intended, and it really rubbed off on us. He was a very endearing teacher. It was really the first time in high school where I felt really enthusiastic about what I was studying.

Aalgaard, who retired in 1999 after 26 years at BHS and 31 years teaching in general, was delighted to hear the latest news about Crompton’s work.

“In second year biology, we do parasitology stuff,” Aalgard said, speaking as if he were still in class. “Part of that was going through the life cycle of malaria. So Peter learned about the entire life cycle of Plasmodium malariae. It makes me feel like my life was really worth it as a teacher when I hear stories like that.”

Peter was born in Connecticut, the third of eight children of Don and Wiltse Crompton. The growing family moved to Bemidji when Peter started kindergarten. Don was a professor of social work at Bemidji State University and Wiltse worked part-time as an occupational therapist. The family lived on Bixby Avenue near the BSU campus.

“It was an ideal childhood growing up in Bemidji,” Peter said. We had a lot of freedom. I had a lot of good friends and we liked to cycle around town. It was a kind of wonderland for outdoor activities. When I think back to Bemidji, I just have a huge nostalgia for a wonderful childhood. I feel really lucky to have been raised there.

Peter’s father died at the age of 57. Her mother currently lives in Austin, Texas, near her three daughters. The eldest, Amy, is a medical assistant in dermatology. Sarah is a special education teacher. Young Wiltse works with people in need as a nurse practitioner.

The Crompton boys are spread across the country. Peter is based in Maryland. Patrick lives in Arizona and has worked in research and microfinance and has done research in Uganda. Joe is an oncology surgeon and immunologist in California. Nick is vice president of facilities and construction for an Illinois-based healthcare provider. The youngest son, Seth, lives in the Twin Cities.

Peter and his wife, Lia, have three daughters, Eve, Mary and Lucy.

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Peter and Lia Crompton on a family hike in 2022 with their daughters Mary, Lucy and Eve.


Joe Compton said he admires his brother for the selfless work he has done at the National Institutes of Health.

“I’m super proud of him,” Joe said. “He’s been doing this malaria research for 20 years, and he’s just developed a drug that could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives. Doing this is quite remarkable. You can do this kind of work for many reasons. You can do it for the prestige and the money, but Pete really cares about the people of West Africa and the people who can potentially benefit from it. I have always admired that in him.

After graduating from BHS, Peter majored in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Boston University. At Johns Hopkins, he earned a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health. He also became interested in international health issues while traveling in Africa and South America during his university years.

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Peter Crompton and his mother Wiltse after graduating from Johns Hopkins Medical University in 2000.


“I became really intrigued by diseases that affect people who live in low- and middle-income countries,” he said. “I did an infectious disease fellowship at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”

Instead of leaving the NIH when the fellowship ended, he stayed and eventually became a tenured researcher and then a tenured scientist. His interest in malaria grew, especially after his trip to West Africa.

“During the summers in college and medical school, I was looking for overseas projects,” Peter said. “After my first year of medical school, I met a classmate who had grown up in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). We bought an old coffee barge and traveled the river system distributing ivermectin to prevent river blindness.

“It was kind of a motley operation, but I just realized that these people have little or no access to medical care, and with very little effort, a few punks from medical school could do the difference.”

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Peter Crompton spent the summer of 1996 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) implementing a river blindness prevention program.


Peter said he was inspired by his father to do this kind of work.

“My dad was a huge influence on me, in terms of thinking about underserved populations,” he said. “He worked extensively with the Native Americans of Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth (Nations). Seeing him in a career where he tries to help people who have less access to resources that many of us value, I think was really inspiring.

Peter said that while the recent breakthrough in malaria is gratifying, his work is far from done.

“Doing this type of work at this stage of my career is truly a privilege,” he said. This study was performed on healthy adults in Africa. The population that suffers the most from malaria are young children in sub-Saharan Africa and pregnant women.

To that end, the Crompton team is doing studies with children in Mali and Kenya, which will be followed by studies in pregnant women.

“If they are found to be safe and effective in these populations of babies and pregnant women, my goal would be to facilitate the studies that would need to be done to essentially get this approved and then implemented,” Peter said. More than half a million children die each year from malaria. I would be very happy in the next 10 years to see that come to fruition.