TCD Academic delivers 14th Samuel Haughton Lecture

Posted on: 07 February 2008

Prof Patrick Prendergast, Professor of Bio-Engineering and Director of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, was invited to give the 14th Samuel Haughton Lecture at the 14th Annual Conference of the Section of Bioengineering, Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland which took place on 25th and 26th January last.

The conference aims to promote Bioengineering by bringing together the medical community, bioengineers, scientists and research and development specialists. The Haughton lecture is in held in honour of the Rev. Samuel Haughton FRS, MRIA who was elected a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin in 1844 and was a key participant in many scientific debates, including the controversy about Evolution and The Age of the Earth.

 ‘”May the Force be with you”: Mechanical Forces in Skeletal Health’ was the title of the lecture and he was presented with an academy silver medal to mark the occasion.  A summary of the presentation is as follows:

All organic forms overcome mechanical forces – their survival depends on it. Mammals have evolved to be machine-like musculoskeletal structures controlled by the central nervous system. The plasticity of this structure is more than science fiction fantasy could have imagined, radiating out to form massive ocean-going whales, flying rodents with sonic- “eyes”, and us, the naked apes.

Not only do whole species adapt to their changing environment, but an individual’s skeleton grows and repairs itself after injury, adapting all the time to mechanical usage. In modern times repair of the neuro-musculoskeletal system involves direct surgical intervention, and designing prostheses for reconstructive surgery is a major occupation of bioengineering. But also interventions can be made at the genetic level, at the level of the coding that grows, adapts, and repairs the system.

The lecture attempted to address some of these issues by

i) Optimality and natural selection, or “Haugton versus Darwin”
ii) Mechanobiology, where mechanobiology aims to discover how mechanical forces modulate ‘fitness’ of the skeletal tissues.
iii) Bioengineered medical devices: optimal design of prostheses and their selection as part of the pre-operative planning process.

The lecture concluded with a discussion of the challenges of interdisciplinary research, and of the application of the scientific method to developments in Bioengineering.