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Professor Irene Tracey

Professor Irene Tracey

Research groups

Biography

Professor Irene Tracey is currently Warden of Merton College, Oxford, her alma mater, which is one of Oxford’s oldest undergraduate and graduate colleges dating back to 1264. She is also Professor of Anaesthetic Neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (without Portfolio) at the University of Oxford. 

Professor Tracey undertook her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Oxford in Biochemistry where her research focused on the early use of magnetic resonance imaging methods to study disease mechanisms in humans under the supervision of Professor Sir George Radda. 

She then held a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School working at the MGH-NMR (now Martinos) imaging centre. In 1997, Professor Tracey returned to Oxford and was a founding member of the now world-leading Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB – now the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging); she was its Director from 2005 until 2015. 

Professor Tracey was tenured in 2001 to the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics with Fellowship at Christ Church. She was then appointed as  Nuffield Chair in Anaesthetic Sciences moving to the Department of Anaesthetics from 2007 to 2019 with Fellowship at Pembroke College. Until recently she was also Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences – a 550-person merged department of scientists and clinicians drawn from the former departments of neurology, ophthalmology and anaesthetics. 

Over the past 25 years her multidisciplinary research team has contributed to a better understanding of pain perception, pain relief and nociceptive processing within the injured and non-injured human central nervous system using advanced neuroimaging techniques and novel paradigm designs. They have also been investigating the neural basis of altered states of consciousness induced by anaesthetic agents. Her work has both discovery and translational elements and has contributed to a fundamental change in how we view pain as an emergent experience not simply related to nociceptive inputs.  

Alongside senior leadership roles within the University, Irene has served and continues to serve on many national and international committees, such as the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), British Neuroscience Association and Lundbeck Brain Prize Committee. She is currently appointed by the Government to the Council of the Medical Research Council and is President-elect of the Federation of European Societies (FENS). She is a passionate advocate for women in science and is involved in several mentorship schemes. In 2008 she was awarded the triennial Patrick Wall Medal from the Royal College of Anaesthetists and in 2009 was made an FRCA for her contributions to the discipline. In 2015 she was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and in 2017 won the Feldberg Foundation Prize followed in 2018 by the British Neuroscience Association’s Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience award and in 2020 she was elected a Member of the Academia Europaea. In the New Year’s Honours list 2022, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Her Majesty The Queen for services to Medical Research. Professor Tracey is married to Professor Myles Allen CBE, a climate physicist, and they have three children, Colette, John and Jim. 


Irene Tracey

MA (Oxon), DPhil., FRCA, FMedSci, MAE, CBE


Professor Anaesthetic Neuroscience

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 (e.g. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22553896). 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 and PainCare)
  • NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre
  • Former financial support from many other organisations is recognized in the acknowledgment section of our published papers.