June 2015 | Meitheamh 2015

Doctor of Science honoris causa

Wed, 10 June 15 13:34

Distinguished UCD Medicine alumnus Professor Fergus Shanahan (UCD Medicine 1977) was conferred with a degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.  Double gold medal winner, Professor Shanahan graduated from UCD with both a medical degree and a BSc in Pathology.  After training in Dublin (Mater Misericordiae University Hospital), Canada (McMaster) and the US (University of California, Los Angeles), Prof Shanahan was appointed Professor of Medicine in University College Cork and consultant gastroenterologist at Cork University Hospital. 

In a stellar research career, Prof Shanahan has published more than 470 scientific papers, has been appointed Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians in Ireland, Canada and the United Kingdom as well as of the American College of Physicians.  He has been listed among the ‘Irish LifeScience 50’, a list of top Irish and Irish Americans in the life science sector and he was named Science Foundation Ireland’s Researcher of the Year in 2013.  At UCC, Prof Shanahan has established the multi-disciplinary Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre which has been ranked 2nd in the world in this area of research.

Citation Address 

Delivered by Prof Des Fitzgerald, Principal, College of Health Sciences

President, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Our awardee today is Professor Fergus Shanahan, class of 1977.

The first time I met Fergus Shanahan was in medical school in UCD and realised that I wasn’t the smartest person in the class and that he probably was.  He not only completed a medical degree and was awarded 2 gold medals, but he was also awarded an honours BSc in Pathology.  Following this, Fergus completed his internship and senior house officer years working with clinicians that many of us will remember – Ivo Drury, Eoin O’Malley, Brian Alton, Timothy Counihan to name a few.  It was during these formative years that Fergus became interested in medical research, something he later described as an addiction.

When reading Fergus’s CV, you get a sense of the social history of medicine in Ireland in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  Like many young doctors in the depression of the 1980s, Fergus left to work in North America, initially in Canada at McMaster, followed by the University of California, Los Angeles. Here he completed his clinical training in gastroenterology and joined the faculty, rising to the rank of Associate Professor.  During that time, in addition to his clinical work, Fergus developed a research programme in gastrointestinal immunology. In 1993, despite his huge success in the US, he as with many of his US-trained classmates returned to Ireland.  He was appointed Professor of Medicine in University College Cork and a clinician in Cork University Hospital and began to build his research programme. 

The 1990s were a difficult time for Irish science, with little support in contrast to the US.  Two things transformed the possibilities for those like Fergus committed to research – the introduction of programme grants by the HRB and the PRTLI initiated by Don Thornhill in the HEA and the philanthropist Chuck Feeney. Fergus, already a world figure in science, used these opportunities to build a research laboratory that became the springboard for one of Ireland’s most successful centres of research, innovation and discovery.  In 1999, Science Foundation Ireland was launched on foot of a review, the Technology Foresight Report led by John Travers in Forfas to support world-class research at a scale that seemed unimaginable.

Using this support, together with colleagues from several departments and different faculties within University College Cork and Teagasc, Fergus led a team of clinicians, clinician-scientists, and basic scientists to create the multi-disciplinary Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre or APC. Under Fergus’s directorship, the center now with a membership of 168 staff, scientists, and students is ranked 2nd in the world in this area of research.

Fergus has published more than 470 scientific papers and several on the medical humanities and has co-edited several books.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians in Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom as well as of the American College of Physicians.  He served as President of the Irish Society of Gastroenterology from 2007-2009.  He was recently named to the “Irish LifeScience 50” a list of the top Irish and Irish Americans in the life science industry. In 2013, Science Foundation Ireland named him Researcher of the Year.

Through his intelligence, intuition and hard work, Fergus discovered a world that we were blind to.  We live in harmony and sometimes in disharmony with living things in the world around us.  Fergus showed us that this living world is also inside us.  The bacteria in the human bowel are essential for life, they help digest our food, provide unique nutrients and help prevent disease.  He and others calls this the microbiome.  The scale of this population of organisms is enormous.  It was like discovering another human organ, but made up of foreign microbes and alien DNA. He has since discovered many of the beneficial elements of that organ and has worked with Teagasc and many industry partners to create from these, unique therapies and food ingredients.

Fergus has developed an extraordinary reputation around the world.  He has given many named lectures; including intriguingly the Incorporation of Barbers Lecture at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.  He has been or is currently on the Editorial Boards of 11 international journals.  He has close to 20 patents granted or submitted.  He has founded two spinout companies, Alimentary Health and Atlantia Food.  Fergus has received many awards, including a DSc from the National University of Ireland.  He has said however that the greatest award for him has been the training the next generation of clinician scientists, getting people to work together and caring for his patients. President and Honoured Guests, I can’t think of a more worthy recipient and I can truly say of Professor Fergus Shanahan, to paraphrase a well-worn quote, not Joyce despite it being that time of year, but surprisingly Niccollo Machiavelli “it is not the degree that honours the man but the man that honours the degree.”

Praehonorabilis Praeses, totaque Universitas,

Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad Gradum Doctoratus Scientiae; idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.

More 2015 UCD Medicine Conferring

More information on the 2015 UCD Medicine Conferring can be found here.