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Research groups


I was born in 1966 and performed my undergraduate and graduate studies in Biochemistry at Merton College, University of Oxford. I graduated with First Class Honours, winning the Gibb’s Prize for joint top-First, and was Senior Scholar at Merton during my doctorate. I held a post-doctoral position at Harvard Medical School (Martinos Imaging Centre) before returning to the UK in 1996 to help found and establish the FMRIB Centre. In 2001, I was tenured and appointed to a University Lectureship with tutorial fellowship at Christ Church at the University of Oxford. I became the Director of the FMRIB Centre in 2005 and Professor of Pain Research. In 2007 while remaining as FMRIB Director, I was elected to the Nuffield Chair in Anaesthetics with Fellowship at Pembroke College. I was an elected Councillor to the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) until 2014 and was Chair of their Scientific Program Committee for the Milan 2012 biannual world congress. In 2008, I was awarded the triennial Patrick Wall Medal from the Royal College of Anaesthetists and in 2009 was made a FRCA for my contributions to the discipline. I was Deputy Chair of the UK’s Medical Research Council’s Neuroscience Mental Health Board for two years and board member from 2009-2014. In 2015, I was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. I was Associate Head for the Medical Sciences Division from 2014 for close to three years. After ten years Directing the FMRIB Centre, I handed over the Directorship in May 2015 to Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg prior to a short sabbatical before becoming Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences in September 2016. In 2017, I was awarded the Feldberg Prize for my contributions to neuroscience and pain research. I was elected by the government in 2016 to serve on council of the Medical Research Council. I am married to Professor Myles Allen, a climate physicist, and we have three wonderful children: a daughter, Colette, and two sons, John and Jim.

Awards Training and Qualifications

  • 19851989 BA, Biochemistry, 1st ClassUniversity of Oxford
  • 19901993 DPhil (PhD), University of Oxford
  • 2009 FRCA, Royal College of Anaesthetists
  • 2015 FMedSci, Fellow Academy of Medical Sciences

Irene Tracey

MA (Oxon), DPhil., FRCA, FMedSci

Nuffield Chair in Anaesthetic Science

Research Summary

The ability to experience pain is old and shared across species. It is our warning 'harm alarm' system and, as such, feeling pain confers an evolutionary advantage. However, when it becomes chronic, as it does in approximately 20% of the adult population, it causes significant suffering and major cost implications for society ( and As such, pain is no longer advantageous and ruins lives. The definition of pain is: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage” – International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP Taxonomy). The FMRIB Pain Analgesia-Anaesthesia Imaging Neuroscience (P.A.I.N) Group, which I head, aims to understand pain perception, analgesia and altered states of consciousness through advanced neuroimaging. For further information, see my group page.

The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging is recognised as one of the world’s leading neuroimaging laboratories that integrates research into key neurological and neuroscientific problems with cutting-edge developments in MR physics and data analysis. The Centre has approximately 110 scientists and clinicians from a range of backgrounds and I was their Director for ten years until May 2015.

Sources of Funding

  • The Medical Research Council
  • The Wellcome Trust
  • The Innovative Medicines Initiative (Europain)
  • NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre
  • ABIDE Therapeutics
  • Grünthenthal GmbH. 
  • Former financial support from many other organisations is recognized in the acknowledgment section of our published papers.