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Research Summary


I performed my undergraduate studies in Biochemistry at Oxford University. During this time I became fascinated with techniques that could examine disease states non-invasively. I therefore remained in Oxford to perform my DPhil studies with Professor Sir George Radda who was pioneering the use of Magnetic Resonance methods to study muscle and brain biochemistry. Subsequent to my doctoral studies, I held a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School in the MGH-NMR Centre (Boston, USA) from 1994-1996, where I performed further spectroscopic studies in patients. It was here I became trained in the relatively new technique of FMRI and was introduced to the field of pain research.

I returned to the UK in 1997 to help co-found and establish the FMRIB Centre along with my colleagues, Paul Matthews, Steve Smith and Peter Jezzard. In 2001, I was appointed to a University Lectureship in the Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics with a Tutorial Fellowship at Christ Church. I was appointed Director of the FMRIB Centre in 2005 and Professor of Pain Research. In July 2007 I was appointed to the Nuffield Professorship of Anaesthetic Science and my group is now based between that department and Clinical Neurology. I have given many invited talks and plenary presentations at several international pain meetings and have received several awards and prizes (e.g. Gibb's Prize for joint highest First Class, American Academy Neurology International Foreign Scholar). I am a member of several advisory boards for and consultant to the pharmaceutical industry. Most importantly, I have three great and irrepressible kids (Colette, John and Jim) and a very tolerant husband, Myles Allen, who studies the physics of climate change.

Awards Training and Qualifications

  • 19851989 BA, Biochemistry, 1st ClassOxford University
  • 19901993 DPhilOxford University

Irene Tracey

Director of FMRIB & Head of NDA

  • Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetic Science

Research Summary

Until recently it has been difficult to obtain reliable objective information from normal subjects and patients regarding their subjective pain experience. Relating specific neurophysiologic markers to perceptual changes induced by sensitisation, behavioural or pharmacological mechanisms and identifying their site of action within the CNS has been a major goal for scientists, clinicians and the pharmaceutical industry. With the advent of functional neuroimaging methods, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and electroencephalography (EEG) this has been made feasible.

Over the past 8 years my group has contributed significantly to a better understanding of nociceptive processing in the human central nervous system in the non-injured and injured state, as well as modulation of pain perception via pharmacological and psychological interventions. I run a multidisciplinary research team of approx. 25 scientists and clinicians focused on using FMRI and EEG to study pain processing within the human brain and spinal cord of chronic pain patients (neuropathic, inflammatory and functional), models of key symptoms from these disorders, and normal subjects. I have a particular interest in mechanisms related to plasticity and inflammation within chronic pain states. We are also expert in understanding the neural basis for pain relief, induced either behaviourally or pharmacologically and have been one of the few groups pioneering the use of FMRI for drug discovery.

Separate to my personal research, I am also Director of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB). This is a 900m2 facility comprising approximately 80 scientists/clinical fellows and based at the John Radcliffe Hospital within the Department of Clinical Neurology. Areas of research within this facility are directed by three further Principal Investigators (Professors Peter Jezzard, Steve Smith and Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg) and include: MR Physics, Image Analysis, Pain, Plasticity in Disease, Cognition, and in vivo Neuroanatomy aided by other senior scientists. The research is largely MR-based but more recently includes Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), EEG as well as combined EEG/FMRI.

Sources of Funding

  • Medical Research Council
  • Human Frontier Science Program
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Pfizer Ltd

Recent Publications

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