Irene Tracey

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Irene Tracey

Born1966 (1966)
Alma materMerton College, Oxford
Spouse(s)Myles Allen
Scientific career
FieldsNeuroscience of Pain, Analgesics
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford, Harvard Medical School

Irene Tracey (born 1966) is a British neuroscientist. She holds the Nuffield Chair of Anaesthetic Science and is the Head of Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford.[2] She is a co-founder of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB) and is its former director.[3] Her research is focused on the neuroscience of pain, specifically pain perception and analgesia, which she studies using neuroimaging tools.[4] She is the Warden of Merton College, Oxford.

Early life and education[edit]

Tracey was born at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. She completed her undergraduate and DPhil, supervised by Sir George Radda, in biochemistry at Merton College, at the University of Oxford.[4]

Academic career[edit]

Tracey moved to the Harvard Medical School for a post-doctoral position, before returning to Oxford in 1996. After her return she helped found the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB).[5] She would serve as its director from 2005 until 2015.[3] In 2001 she got a lectureship, before becoming a professor in 2005, both at the university of Oxford.[2] In October 2016 she became the Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences.[6]

In October 2017, Tracey was announced as the next Warden of Merton College, Oxford, in succession to Sir Martin Taylor. She took up the appointment in October 2019, becoming the college's 51st warden. She is the second female warden: Dame Jessica Rawson was warden from 1994 to 2010.[7]


One of the major findings from Tracey's work is the cerebral signature for pain perception,[8] the representation of pain in the brain. In an early study she identifies the anterior insula and the prefrontal cortex to be involved in the anticipation of pain.[1] Together with one of her postdoctoral fellows, she later identified one particular region of the brain that is pain-specific, the dorsal posterior insula.[9][1]

More recently she has been interested in the how states of consciousness are altered by using anaesthetics.[10] In a study they determined how participants responded to stimuli, while measuring their brain activity using EEG and fMRI. They found common patterns of brain activity when their participants lost consciousness due to anaesthetics.[11]

Public engagement[edit]

Tracey has been a guest on a number of podcasts and radio programmes.[12][13][14] She is a strong advocate for women in science.[15][16] She was featured in the University of Oxford Diversity Projects Women in Science interviews.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Tracey is married and has three children.[16]

Awards and recognition[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Twilley, Nicola (July 2, 2018). "The Neuroscience of Pain". The New Yorker.
  2. ^ a b "Irene Tracey — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  3. ^ a b Osborne, Natalie (2018-09-20). ""Be Ambitious. Go for the Big Questions": A Conversation with Irene Tracey". Pain Research Forum. Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  4. ^ a b "Professor Irene Tracey | Pembroke College". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  5. ^ "Irene Tracey - Lundbeckfonden - The Brain Prize". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  6. ^ "Irene Tracey becomes new Head of Department — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  7. ^ "Merton College names Professor Irene Tracey as next Warden". University of Oxford. 9 October 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  8. ^ a b "BNA Prize Winners 2018 Announced! | News | The British Neuroscience Association". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  9. ^ Tracey, Irene; Farrar, John T.; Okell, Thomas W.; Mezue, Melvin; Segerdahl, Andrew R. (2015). "The dorsal posterior insula subserves a fundamental role in human pain". Nature Neuroscience. 18 (4): 499–500. doi:10.1038/nn.3969. ISSN 1546-1726. PMC 6783299. PMID 25751532.
  10. ^ "Irene Tracey wins Feldberg Foundation Prize — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  11. ^ "Researchers pinpoint degrees of consciousness during anaesthesia — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  12. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - From Agony to Analgesia, Seeing Pain". BBC. Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  13. ^ "NCTalks with Irene Tracey: lessons from pain, analgesia and anesthesia". Neuro Central. 2018-07-18. Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  14. ^ "The Life Scientific - Irene Tracey on pain in the brain". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  15. ^ a b "Feldberg Prize 2017 - Heidelberg Pain Consortium". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  16. ^ a b Watts, Geoff (July 16, 2006). "Irene Tracey: seeing pain for what it is" (PDF). The Lancet. 388 (10041): 229. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31032-7. PMID 27479560.
  17. ^ "Irene Tracey — Diversity Projects". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  18. ^ "Awards and Recognition | The Royal College of Anaesthetists". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  19. ^ "Irene Tracey awarded Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2019-01-04.
  20. ^ Franklin-Wallis, Oliver (23 May 2020). "From pandemics to cancer: the science power list". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Steven Gunn (acting)
Warden of Merton College, Oxford
2019 to present