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Research Papers

A Short History of Bioengineering Research in Ireland OPEN ACCESS

[+] Author and Article Information
Daniel J. Kelly

Department of Mechanical and
Manufacturing Engineering,
Trinity College Dublin,
Dublin 2, Ireland;
Trinity Centre for Bioengineering,
Trinity College Dublin,
Dublin 2, Ireland;
Tissue Engineering Research Group,
Department of Anatomy,
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland,
123 St. Stephen's Green,
Dublin 2, Ireland;
Advanced Materials and Bioengineering
Research (AMBER) Centre,
RCSI and TCD,
Dublin 2, Ireland

Fergal J. O'Brien

Department of Mechanical and
Manufacturing Engineering,
Trinity College Dublin,
Dublin 2, Ireland;
Trinity Centre for Bioengineering,
Trinity College Dublin,
Dublin 2, Ireland;
Tissue Engineering Research Group,
Department of Anatomy,
Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland,
123 St. Stephen's Green,
Dublin 2, Ireland;
Advanced Materials and Bioengineering
Research (AMBER) Centre,
RCSI and TCD,
Dublin 2, Ireland
e-mail: fjobrien@rcsi.ie

Patrick J. Prendergast

Office of the President and Provost,
Trinity College Dublin,
Dublin 2, Ireland

1Corresponding author.

Manuscript received October 16, 2017; final manuscript received December 7, 2017; published online January 12, 2018. Editor: Victor H. Barocas.

J Biomech Eng 140(2), 021005 (Jan 12, 2018) (4 pages) Paper No: BIO-17-1467; doi: 10.1115/1.4038789 History: Received October 16, 2017; Revised December 07, 2017

In July 2018, Ireland will host the World Congress of Biomechanics in Dublin. This Congress is held once every 4 yr and is the premier meeting worldwide in its field, with over 3000 people expected to visit Dublin in July. The awarding of the 2018 Congress to Ireland is a reflection of the strength of biomechanics and bioengineering research in this country. To mark this event, herein we describe the development of biomechanics and bioengineering research in Ireland over the past 40 yr, which has grown in parallel with the medical device industry as well as the expansion of Government investment in science, innovation, and a knowledge-based economy. The growth of this activity has resulted in Ireland becoming established as a global hub in the field.

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Biomechanics and bioengineering research has been on-going in most developed countries, at least sporadically, for over a century. Ireland is no exception: the names of Samuel Haughton [1] or Michael Mac Connaill [2] appear in most historical discussions of the subject. The field in Ireland probably began with Haughton whose work, Principles of Animal Mechanics, published in 1873, showed how well-designed animals are from a biomechanics perspective. Haughton was medically qualified and was instrumental in founding the School of Engineering in Trinity College Dublin, showing how interdisciplinary collaboration is a necessity for a university or a city to make an impact. Interinstitutional bioengineering collaboration evolved in Ireland in the early 1980s with the Bioengineering Research Centre established jointly by David Taylor of Trinity College Dublin and Brendan McCormack (then) of UCD. Taylor had come to Trinity with a Ph.D. in fracture mechanics from Cambridge, and McCormack had studied bioengineering with Van Mow at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Availing of the small grants available in Ireland at the time, these two lecturers (as they then were) brought their M.Sc. and Ph.D. students together to meet monthly and share knowledge and, importantly, to enable access to testing equipment in both institutions. Their bioengineering research was in the field of orthopedic materials and implants. A collaborative and sharing culture emerged under their leadership. Several researchers who were later to establish active research groups themselves were Ph.D. students in this group in the 1980s. The group expanded its principal investigator (PI) base when Alun Carr in UCD in ceramic biomaterials and Garret Lyons in Trinity in engineering design joined the Center. In 2008, Richard Reilly moved from UCD to Trinity as Professor of Neural Engineering bringing a new expertize in biomedical devices to the group.

The 1990s saw research strengths emerge in bone mechanics and biomaterials, funded mainly by small national grants and industry. In the mid to late 1990s, research became internationalized, and grew in scale, with European Union grants. Success in European Union grants became a feature of bioengineering research, which paralleled the growth of the medical devices industry in Ireland in that decade, including Howmedica, later Stryker; Bard; Guidant, now part of Boston Scientific; DePuy; Boston Scientific, and several others (see below). By 1995 sufficient critical mass had been achieved to found a national conference “Bioengineering in Ireland,” and, on the suggestion of Clive Lee, a surgeon who studied for his Ph.D. in bioengineering under the guidance of David Taylor, it was later incorporated as a distinct division or “Section” of Ireland's national medical academy—the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland [3]. The Academy approved a silver medal for the keynote lecture (named after Haughton) at the annual conference thus establishing, or validating, the subject of bioengineering in the eyes of the biomedical research and medical community. It was decided that the medalists would alternate between an engineer and a clinician [4] and David Taylor chaired the inaugural meeting in Wicklow in 1995 with orthopedic surgeon, James Sheehan, receiving the accolade as the first Haughton Lecturer.

A notable feature of the work at this time was the continuous engagement between clinicians and engineers, with a Bioengineering Design Forum held monthly in various hospitals around Ireland which allowed clinicians to interact with engineers to solve bioengineering-related clinical problems [5]. Another significant step in establishing Bioengineering as an academic activity was the creation, in 1999, of the Masters Program in Bioengineering between Trinity College Dublin, the University of Ulster, the University of Limerick [6], and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). The stature of the ever growing field became clear, when, in 2000 the European Society of Biomechanics (ESB) held its biennial meeting in Dublin (chaired by one of us, PJP)—attracting more than 500 delegates, it was the biggest conference of the ESB up to that point [7].

Holding the ESB meeting in Dublin turned out to be an important event because it attracted the attention of the university leadership in Trinity, and led the University Council to formally establish the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering (TCBE) in 2002 [8] (Fig. 1). The TCBE was founded following a successful bid to the Higher Education Authority (HEA), a body responsible for providing funding to Irish third level institutions (mainly universities and Institutes of Technology). The HEA had established a scheme to fund the construction of research and teaching infrastructure. This was called the Program for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI), and it was instigated with the strong support of an American philanthropic organization which had told the Irish government, at the highest levels, that it would match the government's capital funding “pound for pound”—this was too generous an offer to resist and, for the first time since the foundation of the State in 1921, serious money was to be put into Irish university research [9]. The philanthropic organization was Atlantic Philanthropies [10], and the man behind it was Chuck Feeney, although his desire for anonymity meant his name was not divulged for many years [11]. Without this philanthropic funding Irish science would likely have remained in the doldrums. Consistent with this ethos, and continuing the growth of investment in research and innovation, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) was established by the Irish Government in 2000 to support scientists and engineers working in fields that underpin biotechnology and information and communications technology (later expanded to include sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies). SFI funding has been key to the subsequent growth of the research labs of numerous Irish bioengineers.

Based on a peer-reviewed competitive process, a team of bioengineering PIs secured a €5.5 m grant from PRTLI equip new laboratories and funded a research program to be carried out in the 2002–2007 period. The university secured additional capital funding to build new laboratories. The research divided into three themes: tissue engineering and mechanobiology, “bone for life” (which focussed on osteoporosis and bone mechanobiology), and preclinical testing of implants. The research promoted strong multidisciplinary links across Trinity and the other partner institutions involved: RCSI—led by Clive Lee, the National University of Ireland in Galway—led by Peter McHugh, and UCD—led David FitzPatrick. PRTLI funding also enabled the establishment of the first wet lab space in an Irish engineering school and provided the inaugural funding to establish research programs of scale in the fields of tissue engineering, advanced biomaterials, cell mechanics, and regenerative medicine—areas, where Ireland has excelled on the international scale since.

The expansion of bioengineering research in Ireland over the past 40 yr has occurred in parallel with the growth of the medical device and pharmaceutical industry. Ireland is now well established as a leader in the production of pharmaceuticals worldwide with over 120 international companies, including nine of the top ten global pharmaceutical giants, found in Ireland. Similarly, 18 of the world's top 25 medical technology companies are also based in Ireland. In 2000, the medical devices sector in Ireland was made up of 75 companies in total; now, there are 450 companies employing some 29,000 people. It is now one of the largest exporters of medical products in Europe with annual exports of €12.6 billion and companies here directly export to over 100 countries worldwide [12]. Every 5 s, one of the 9 × 106 Boston Scientific devices designed and manufactured in Ireland is used in a medical procedure somewhere in the world. Incredibly, 80% of global stent production and over 33% of the world's contact lenses are made in Ireland [13].

As the medical device sector has grown, so has the interaction between industry and academia. A considerable proportion of the money invested by the MedTech companies located and headquartered here (over €1 billion on an annual basis) is being allocated to innovation, research, and development. The Irish Government has also recognized the importance of investment in this area, leading to significant funding in industry-academic partnerships by state agencies such as SFI and Enterprise Ireland. For example, the SFI Centres program links scientists and engineers in large-scale partnerships with industry to address crucial research questions and develop new technologies to address societal needs as well as expanding educational and career opportunities in Ireland in science and engineering. Enterprise Ireland has been funding the commercialization of new technologies from academic research labs—often in partnership with industry—as well as helping to establish high-quality, high value spin-out companies in Ireland and grow indigenous Irish companies in new markets. These industry-academic partnerships will undoubtedly continue to provide major opportunities for clinical translation going forward, further enhancing Ireland's position as a global leader in the development of medical devices for the treatment of chronic and acute diseases.

Today exceptionally strong bioengineering research clusters are found in Dublin, Limerick, Belfast, and Galway. These groups work closely with industry to bring technologies to the clinic for the benefit of patients and society. For example, the remit of the TCBE has grown, and it now brings together 30 PIs, focusing on four research themes: (1) biomechanics and mechanobiology, (2) tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, (3) neural engineering, and (4) medical devices and advanced drug delivery. A reflection of the strength of research within the TCBE is the success of it PIs and alumni in receiving prestigious European Research Council (ERC) awards. These incredibly competitive ERC awards are now established as the benchmark for scientific excellence in Europe. The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence. In 2015, the TCBE celebrated the tenth ERC grant awarded to one of its alumni and/or PIs. Awardees now include Fergal O'Brien (RCSI), Daniel Kelly (Trinity), Damien Lacroix (University of Sheffield), Laoise McNamara (NUI Galway), Niamh Nowlan (Imperial College), David Hoey, Triona Lally, Mark Ahearne (all Trinity), and Cathal Kearney (RCSI)—some of whom are multiple award winners (Fig. 2).

Bioengineers in Ireland continue to collaborate with colleagues from diverse disciplines to address important clinical problems. This has been enabled by the establishment of a number of new national SFI research centres, most notably AMBER and CÚRAM. AMBER, the Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre, an exciting €58 million SFI and industry-funded venture, brings together a multidisciplinary team from the CRANN nanotechnology center and the TCBE in Trinity with researchers and clinicians from the RCSI Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) and University College Cork and is focussed on developing the next generation of materials and medical technologies in partnership with industry (currently over 30 companies are partners on collaborative projects). As an example, a number of technologies from AMBER–TERG researchers in RCSI have been patented, resulting in the spin out in 2011 of a high potential start-up, SurgaColl Technologies, Dublin, Ireland which has brought two collagen-based scaffolds for bone and cartilage repair from the RCSI benchside to the clinic. Other examples of spin-out companies from Irish bioengineering research labs include Selio, who are developing a novel lung biopsy device, and CroiValve, who are developing a minimally invasive device for tricuspid valve repair—both of which originated from TCBE. Similar to AMBER, the Galway-based CÚRAM Centre for medical devices, which brings together researchers from a number of Irish universities is also working to rapidly translate novel transformative products to the patient bedside. These research centers provide the basis for the continued growth of bioengineering research in Ireland. Furthermore, they will continue to act as a catalyst for the interaction between academia and Ireland's medical device industry.

These are exciting times for the fields of bioengineering and biomechanics globally. Concepts like tissue engineering and nanomedicine, which once seemed like a pipedream, are now beginning to make an impact on clinical practice. Ireland is now established as an international leader in the field. Hosting the European Society of Biomechanics in Dublin in 2000 played an important role in contributing to the growth if the field over the following years. As we move to mark 120 yr since the death of Samuel Haughton on Oct. 31, 1897, it is fitting that the global biomechanics community will return to Ireland in 2018 for the eighth World Congress of Biomechanics—providing a new opportunity to celebrate the field and to look forward to the next generation of bioengineering achievement in Ireland and globally.

It is a pleasure to record our appreciation not only to those mentioned in the text but to those too numerous to name individually who have contributed to the success of bioengineering research over the last two decades. We look forward to celebrating with them at WCB2018.

Prendergast, P. J. , and Lee, T. C. , 1999, “ On a Wing and a Prayer: The Biomechanics of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Haughton (1821–1897),” J. Ir. Coll. Physicians Surg., 28(1), pp. 38–43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11623606 [PubMed]
Prendergast, P. J. , and Lee, T. C. , 2006, “ Walking on Water: The Biomechanics of Michael A. MacConaill (1902–1985),” Ir. J. Med. Sci., 175(3), pp. 69–75. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Taylor, D. , and Lee, T. C. , 1994, “ The Formation of a Bioengineering Section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland,” Ir. J. Med. Sci., 163(9), p. 447. [CrossRef]
Lee, T. C. , 2011, “ Anatomists and Geometers: 16th Samuel Haughton Lecture of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland,” Ir. J. Med. Sci., 180(2), pp. 307–314. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Prendergast, P. J. , 1997, “ The Bioengineering Design Forum: Developing an Innovation Network,” Ind. Higher Educ., 11(2), pp. 116–119. [CrossRef]
Lyons, C. G. , 2000, “ Brief History of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in TCD,” Perspectives on Design and Bioengineering, Vol. 8, Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, Dublin, Ireland, pp. 194–202. [PubMed] [PubMed]
Prendergast, P. J. , Lee, T. C. , and Carr, A. J. , eds., 2000, Proceedings of the 12th Conference of the European Society of Biomechanics, Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.
Trinity College Dublin, 2002, “ Minutes of the University Council Meeting of 29 May 2002,” Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
Mollan, C. , ed., 2004, Science and Ireland—Value for Society, Royal Dublin Society, Dublin, Ireland.
Oechsli, C. G. , ed., 2014, Laying Foundations for Change: Capital Investments of the Atlantic Philanthropies, The Magnum Foundation, New York.
O'Clery, C. , 2007, The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune, Public Affairs, New York.
Irish Medtech Association, 2016, “ Irish Medtech Association Statistics,” Irish Medtech Association, Dublin, Ireland, accessed Oct. 1, 2016, http://www.irishmedtechassoc.ie/Sectors/IMDA/IMDA.nsf/vPages/Medtech_sector~about-the-medtech-sector!OpenDocument
Irish Medtech Association, 2016, “ Medtech Rising 1916–2016: The Story of How Ireland Became a Success in Global Medtech,” Irish Medtech Association, Dublin, Ireland, accessed Oct. 1, 2016, http://www.irishmedtechassoc.ie/Sectors/IMDA/IMDA.nsf/vPages/Newsroom~medtech-rising-the-story-of-how-ireland-became-a-success-in-global-medtech-05-12-2016/$file/Medtech+Rising+2016.pdf
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References

Prendergast, P. J. , and Lee, T. C. , 1999, “ On a Wing and a Prayer: The Biomechanics of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Haughton (1821–1897),” J. Ir. Coll. Physicians Surg., 28(1), pp. 38–43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11623606 [PubMed]
Prendergast, P. J. , and Lee, T. C. , 2006, “ Walking on Water: The Biomechanics of Michael A. MacConaill (1902–1985),” Ir. J. Med. Sci., 175(3), pp. 69–75. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Taylor, D. , and Lee, T. C. , 1994, “ The Formation of a Bioengineering Section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland,” Ir. J. Med. Sci., 163(9), p. 447. [CrossRef]
Lee, T. C. , 2011, “ Anatomists and Geometers: 16th Samuel Haughton Lecture of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland,” Ir. J. Med. Sci., 180(2), pp. 307–314. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
Prendergast, P. J. , 1997, “ The Bioengineering Design Forum: Developing an Innovation Network,” Ind. Higher Educ., 11(2), pp. 116–119. [CrossRef]
Lyons, C. G. , 2000, “ Brief History of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in TCD,” Perspectives on Design and Bioengineering, Vol. 8, Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, Dublin, Ireland, pp. 194–202. [PubMed] [PubMed]
Prendergast, P. J. , Lee, T. C. , and Carr, A. J. , eds., 2000, Proceedings of the 12th Conference of the European Society of Biomechanics, Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland.
Trinity College Dublin, 2002, “ Minutes of the University Council Meeting of 29 May 2002,” Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
Mollan, C. , ed., 2004, Science and Ireland—Value for Society, Royal Dublin Society, Dublin, Ireland.
Oechsli, C. G. , ed., 2014, Laying Foundations for Change: Capital Investments of the Atlantic Philanthropies, The Magnum Foundation, New York.
O'Clery, C. , 2007, The Billionaire Who Wasn't: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune, Public Affairs, New York.
Irish Medtech Association, 2016, “ Irish Medtech Association Statistics,” Irish Medtech Association, Dublin, Ireland, accessed Oct. 1, 2016, http://www.irishmedtechassoc.ie/Sectors/IMDA/IMDA.nsf/vPages/Medtech_sector~about-the-medtech-sector!OpenDocument
Irish Medtech Association, 2016, “ Medtech Rising 1916–2016: The Story of How Ireland Became a Success in Global Medtech,” Irish Medtech Association, Dublin, Ireland, accessed Oct. 1, 2016, http://www.irishmedtechassoc.ie/Sectors/IMDA/IMDA.nsf/vPages/Newsroom~medtech-rising-the-story-of-how-ireland-became-a-success-in-global-medtech-05-12-2016/$file/Medtech+Rising+2016.pdf

Figures

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 1

Official opening of the TCBE in May 2005. From left: Patrick Prendergast, founding director of the TCBE, Professor Jane Grimson, Vice Provost, Trinity College Dublin, Ms. Mary Hanafin, Minister for Education and Science in the Irish Government, Professor John Fitzpatrick, Head of the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in Trinity.

Grahic Jump Location
Fig. 2

Trinity Centre for Bioengineering Symposium, September 2015 to celebrate the tenth ERC grant awarded to one of its alumni and/or PIs. The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence. Award winners, from left to right: Professor Triona Lally, Professor David Hoey and Dr. Mark Ahearne of Trinity, with alumni Dr. Niamh Nowlan (Imperial College, London, UK), Professor Damien Lacroix (University of Sheffield), Professor Laoise McNamara (NUI Galway), and Professor Daniel Kelly (TCBE Director: Trinity) and Professor Fergal O'Brien (TCBE Chair: RCSI).

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