Professor Irene Tracey

Fellow, Head of Department & Nuffield Chair in Anaesthetic Science
+44 (0) 1865 222724

Professor Irene Tracey is Head of Department for the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Professor of Anaesthetic Science. Professor Tracey is also a member of the MRC Council and a Trustee of the research charity MQ. Professor Tracey will become the 51st Warden of Merton College in October 2019.

Teaching activities

Prof. Tracey provides lectures to 2nd year Bachelor of Medicine students in the areas of Nociception, Pain, Pain Relief and Neuroimaging.

Detailed Biography

I was born in 1966 and performed my undergraduate and graduate studies in Biochemistry at the University of Oxford in Merton College. I graduated with First Class Honours, winning the Gibb’s Prize for joint top-First, and was Senior Scholar at Merton during my DPhil (=PhD). 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 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. I was a REF panel member for Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology in 2014. In 2015, I was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. I have been Associate Head for the Medical Sciences Division since 2014.

After ten years Directing the FMRIB Centre, I handed over the Directorship in May 2015 to Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg in order to take a one-year sabbatical prior to becoming Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences in September 2016.

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

  • 1985- 1989 BA, Biochemistry, 1st Class, University of Oxford
  • 1990- 1993 DPhil (PhD), University of Oxford
  • 2009 FRCA, Royal College of Anaesthetists
  • 2015 FMedSci, Fellow Academy of Medical Sciences


College & university roles and committees

Member of:

  • Governing Body
  • Fellows Remuneration Committee
  • Standing Committee

Research interests

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

The FMRIB Centre 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.