Professor Lance Edward Lanyon
Doctor of Science
13 July 2004 - Orator: Professor W. P. H. Duffus
Two dates to consider today: 1791 and 1989. Why 1791? It was certainly an important year for the birth of famous British scientists: Michael Faraday, the eminent physicist and Charles Babbage, widely regarded as the father of computing. But no, neither of these individuals important as they were, had much impact on the world of veterinary science as did a lone Frenchman called Charles Benoit de St. Bel in 1791. Around that time the famous racehorse Eclipse had died after an amazing and unbeaten career on the racetrack and it is worth remembering that the vast majority of racehorses today are the direct descendents of this awesome talent. Monsieur St. Bel from the vet school in Lyon happened to be the only qualified veterinarian in the UK at that time, and was therefore asked to perform the post-mortem to ascertain the secret of Eclipse's successful life. It must have been a lonely job as the only vet in the UK so Monsieur St. Bel decided to establish a veterinary school: in Camden Town, London in 1791; four students starting the course in January 1792.
Now roll forward to the second date: 198 years later in 1989, with a Royal Charter and an established reputation as one of the world's leading veterinary establishments, the Royal Veterinary College appointed a new Principal: Professor Lance Lanyon. The number of Principals of the RVC have been few but many were highly influential and famous veterinarians, such as John McFadyean, Frederick Hobday and currently Lance Lanyon. Incidentally, Lance Lanyon is not the only Principal to launch successful fund-raising appeals as Frederick Hobday started the 'nosebag appeal' which raised a magnificent £135,000 in the 1930's which was then matched by the Government and utilised to build a new school. Mr Vice-Chancellor, some principles of university funding do not seem to change!
1989 was a critical time for the RVC, as three weeks after Lance Lanyon took office in January the notorious Riley Committee was due to report on the future numbers of veterinary schools within the UK. One could say that Professor Lanyon was either a gambler or he had inside information, as the RVC survived and there is no question that under his stewardship the RVC has made spectacular progress whatever statistic you choose to use: undergraduate numbers increasing from 70 to well over 200, the number of clinical residents increasing from 2 to over 45, and major capital projects including the largest and latest, the Eclipse Building which has reunited the skeleton of that famous horse with the veterinarians and veterinary students of today in a magnificent building. Behind all these achievements Professor Lanyon has been the inspirational driving force.
Despite these glittering achievements at the RVC in London, Bristol has played a key role in Lance Lanyon's career, firstly by recognising his talents, to be truthful somewhat hidden at first, and then providing the environment for these talents to develop and eventually flourish. The temporary inconvenience of failing Biology A level was quickly remedied by Bristol offering him a place on the pre-vet/pre-med year. I know that Professor Lanyon attributes his successful academic career to the period of adjustment that this year provided for a young 17 year old undergraduate.
The year that graduated with Lance Lanyon in 1966 from Bristol Veterinary School was an amazing year on several counts: only 19 qualified, losing nearly 40% of their colleagues on the way, yet what a 19: two of them received the only first class honours ever awarded for the BVSc, several have subsequently been awarded DSc's (including Professor Joe Brownlie this morning), they have captains of industry, leading practitioners and academics amongst their number.
Professor Lanyon's undergraduate career at Bristol was not only a time to sharpen his academic teeth, as even at this early age he had already recognised the need to seek out jobs where he could make things happen (a skill Mr Vice-Chancellor which has never deserted him), so he naturally accepted key jobs within the Centaur Society (the veterinary student body at Bristol which still infamously flourishes today). The jobs within Centaur that fitted the bill were Secretary but perhaps more importantly, organiser of the veterinary contribution to the annual Rag floats. Perhaps the best description of that event can be found by a perusal of the local Bristol based press during the early 1960's which reveals some details of the float for which Lance Lanyon was directly responsible for. One local paper described this occurrence as the most revolting sight that Bristol had ever seen, namely an elephant. Not any ordinary elephant this, no, this carefully modelled elephant was undergoing an extensive abdominal operation. Perhaps I should not dwell on too many of the anatomical details, Mr Vice-Chancellor, but suffice it to say that this float had all the necessary products and side-effects that one might expect from such a major operation on a very large and very nervous animal. One can only feel sympathy for the student law society float directly behind the vet's float with a beautiful law student resplendent in her white dress and seated on the scales of justice, which proved an irresistible target for the 'elephant'. Again, we can only surmise at the rapid deployment of the health and safety executive after this incident.
Fresh from such triumphs Lance Lanyon decided that as he had so enjoyed trading insults with one of his teachers in Anatomy, Dick Smith, he would return in his vacations to research with Dick on the biomechanics of intervertebral disease in the dog. So started an outstanding and successful research career. After qualifying with his BVSc with honours, Lance Lanyon returned to the Anatomy department at Bristol to study for a PhD with Dick as his supervisor. During this time Lance Lanyon perfected a technique to measure bone deformation when the living bone was subjected to a loading stress. This was the first time this had been demonstrated and such work has been the cornerstone of Lance Lanyon's research.
With his colleagues, Lance Lanyon undertook ground-breaking, forgive the pun, research and his early publications gave clear experimental proof to Wolff's Law, a theory from the 19th century drawn up by the German anatomist Wolff, which intimated that the way to strengthen bone and tendons was to trot for miles and miles on roads. However, Lance Lanyon's work demonstrated that this adaptive response is triggered by very small amounts of work. In fact, very large amounts of work have a deleterious effect on bone density because the bone remodelling goes "haywire", so a modicum of exercise on a yielding surface seems best.
As Principal of the Royal Veterinary College Professor Lanyon is a member of Universities UK, that elite group of Vice-Chancellors and Principals who organise our lives for us, as well as a member of several key London-based Institutes. Notwithstanding these commitments, Professor Lanyon has maintained an active research group, funded primarily through Wellcome Trust programme and BBSRC grants. Indeed, his research income has consistently been amongst the highest in the College.
Professor Lanyon's research group remain focussed on the mechanisms by which bone cells respond to bone loading, to achieve, maintain and if necessary restore structurally appropriate bone architecture. In humans the most widespread failure of such mechanisms occurs in women after the menopause. His group's most recent finding is that the strain-related stimulus by which bone cells control bone mass is processed via the oestrogen receptor. From this they propose that the central lesion of post-menopausal osteoporosis is due to reduced expression of the oestrogen receptor following oestrogen withdrawal. An examination of their published work demonstrates that sheep that stood on a gently vibrating platform for 20 minutes a day showed a marked increase in the density of the main thighbone by the end of a year. Such vibration actually seemed to build bone, but as a leading researcher from Lanyon's group has recently said "It is too early to stand on your washing machine as a woman may not respond in the same way as a sheep.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, for a veterinarian to be in a position to propose from his own work a hypothesis affecting some 50% of the female population illustrates the usefulness of a broadly-based veterinary qualification properly applied.
Professor Lanyon has always played a crucial role in both formulating and then articulating important areas of concern to the veterinary profession within the UK. For example, he has argued long, hard and eloquently for our country to have a carefully considered and sensible approach to the control of infectious disease. I quote: "The relevance to longstanding but as yet unresolved problems, such as infectious diseases, have been sacrificed in the quest for peer-perceived topicality and excellence. The research base of an area of strategic national importance should not rest on a cottage industry of project grants". How right he is. One only needs to consider how, within the last few years, BSE, Classical Swine Fever, Foot and Mouth Disease and TB have cost this country £billions, and with diseases such as TB, no end in sight.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, this occasion is an opportunity to honour the career of one of the country's leading veterinarians and educationalists, whose career was forged in Bristol. Therefore, I present to you Lance Edward Lanyon as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.