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The far-reaching depth and impact of Professor Fergus Shanahan’s research are recognised by the Academy’s award of the 2016 Gold Medal in the Life Sciences.

Professor Shanahan studied medicine at University College Dublin where he graduated with honours in 1977 and was awarded his first gold medal – the gold medal in medicine from the Mater University Hospital. Subsequently he trained in immunology at McMaster University in Canada before working at the University of California, Los Angeles for 10 years where he studied the immunology of the gut.

His original and imaginative research in gut immune-pathology has been truly paradigm shifting. The outcomes of his early research on how cancers evade immune-surveillance, demonstrated the meticulous translation of his basic research findings to clinical application.

Professor Shanahan was pivotal in discovering the role of the microbiota in inflammatory diseases. He has been instrumental in developing Ireland’s reputation as an international lead in microbiome research. Almost two decades ago, he identified the importance of gut bacteria for our health and predicted its significance to the food and pharmaceutical industries.

In 1993 Professor Shanahan returned to Ireland where, together with colleagues from University College Cork and Teagasc, he led a team of clinicians and scientists to successfully compete for seed funding from Science Foundation Ireland to create a multi-disciplinary research centre – the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC, now the APC Microbiome Institute). The centre was established in 2003 under Professor Shanahan’s directorship and it investigates host-microbe interactions in the gut in health and disease.

Professor Shanahan’s research has led to the discovery that diversity in our diet has a direct impact on the diversity of our bacteria, which in turn can increase or change the risk of a variety of diseases such as cancer, cardio-vascular and heart disease, diabetes, allergies and obesity.

From this discovery, his research expanded to allow for the development of smarter antibiotics, new anti-inflammatory drugs and new ingredients for functional foods. Fergus Shanahan was amongst the first to pursue the link between microbiota and Irritable Bowel Disease and he pioneered the therapeutic use of food-grade bacteria in intestinal disease.

Professor Shanahan’s international reputation as a researcher, earned from his over 450 peer reviewed research publications, has been recognised by accolades such as the prestigious Grossman lectureship award from the American Gastroenterological Association and the McKenna prize – the highest award from the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom as well as a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. In 2013, Science Foundation Ireland named him as its Researcher of the Year.