Irene Tracey
Oxford Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey giving an address in 2023
Irene Tracey giving her admission speech on becoming Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University in 2023.
Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Assumed office
1 January 2023
ChancellorThe Lord Patten of Barnes
Preceded byLouise Richardson
Personal details
Irene Mary Carmel Tracey

(1966-10-30) 30 October 1966 (age 57)
Oxford, England
(m. 1994)
EducationMerton College, Oxford (MA, DPhil)
Known forVice-chancellor of the University of Oxford
AwardsSuffrage Science award (2014)
Feldberg Prize (2017) Edit this at Wikidata
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Oxford
Harvard University
ThesisMRS and biochemical studies on animal models of human disease (1993)
Doctoral advisorJeffrey F. Dunn[3]

Irene Mary Carmel Tracey CBE FRS FMedSci MAE FRCA (born 30 October 1966)[1] is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford and former Warden of Merton College, Oxford.[4][5] She is also Professor of Anaesthetic Neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and formerly Pro-Vice-Chancellor (without portfolio) at the University of Oxford.[6] She is a co-founder of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB), now the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging.[7] Her team’s research is focused on the neuroscience of pain, specifically pain perception and analgesia as well as how anaesthetics produce altered states of consciousness. Her team uses multidisciplinary approaches including neuroimaging.[2][8][9]

Early life and education

Tracey was born at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford and educated at St. Thomas More R.C. Primary School and Gosford Hill School in Kidlington.[10][11][12] She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Merton College, Oxford in Biochemistry under the supervision of Eric Newsholme[13] and George Radda.[14] She graduated with joint-top first class degree winning the Gibb’s Prize as an undergraduate and was a Wellcome Trust prize student and senior scholar at Merton College for her graduate work.[15] Her graduate research was supervised by Jeffrey F. Dunn[3] and investigated the use of magnetic resonance imaging methods to study disease in humans.[12]


As an early career researcher, Tracey held a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School, working at the MGH-NMR imaging centre (now Martinos) applying magnetic spectroscopy techniques to understand AIDS Dementia Complex.[16] During this period she became interested in pain, the research field she would eventually focus on. Tracey returned to Oxford in 1997, where she helped to found the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB), later renamed the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging; she served as its Director from 2005 until 2015.[17] She was appointed university lecturer in 2001 at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics; during this time, she was also a tutor in medicine and Fellow of Christ Church.[18] Between 2007 and 2019, Tracey was Nuffield Chair in Anaesthetic Sciences and a Fellow of Pembroke College, where she is now an Honorary Fellow.[19] In October 2016, she became Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences.[14]

In October 2017, Tracey was announced as the next Warden of Merton College, in succession to Sir Martin Taylor.[20] She was installed as Warden on 5 October 2019, becoming the college’s 51st warden.[21]

On 9 May 2022, it was announced that Tracey would be the next Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, with effect from 2023, in succession to Louise Richardson. She said of her nomination: ‘I am deeply committed to growing Oxford's impact through supporting its ground-breaking discovery research, its excellence in teaching and its drive to create a global innovation powerhouse.’[22]

Tracey has served on various scientific committees, including the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), British Neuroscience Association, and Lundbeck Brain Prize Committee.[23] She is a member of the Council of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).[23] She is a passionate advocate for women in science and, as Warden of Merton College, championed greater inclusion and diversity.[11][24]


Tracey's research centers on investigating what she calls "the cerebral signature for pain perception" − how key regions of the human brain give rise to pain − and on developing objective, reliable, scientific ways of measuring what has always been considered a highly subjective experience.[10][25] In particular, Tracey and her colleagues have used fMRI brain scanning techniques to discover the various neural sites and mechanisms that underlie pain, to distinguish between the experience of pain and the anticipation of that experience, and to explore differences in how people experience the same pain in different ways at different times.[10] Her team has also investigated how pain-relief treatments can produce altered states of consciousness[26] and how religious beliefs can affect and alleviate pain.[10] One key finding is that pain is complex and cognitive, and, in Tracey’s words, "sensitive to various mental processes such as the feelings and beliefs that someone has", so it doesn't arise exclusively from a single painful input, such as a pinprick or burn.[27] Her objective is to improve the understanding of chronic pain, its diagnosis, and treatment, partly through the development of more effective drugs.[10][14]

Awards and honours

In 2008, Tracey was awarded the triennial Patrick Wall Medal from the Royal College of Anaesthetists[23] and in 2009 was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (FRCA) for her contributions to the discipline. She won the Suffrage Science award in 2014.[28] In 2015 she was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci)[29] and in 2017 won the Feldberg Foundation prize,[30] followed in 2018 by the British Neuroscience Association’s Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience award.[31] In 2020, Tracey was elected a member of the Academia Europaea (MAE), and in 2022 she was elected an honorary fellow of The Physiological Society. In the 2022 New Year Honours List, Tracey was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for services to medical research. She received her CBE from Charles III at Windsor Castle on 16 November 2022 during the first Investiture held by His Majesty following his Accession.[32][33] In 2023 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.[34]


Tracey has published over 200 original papers;[2][9] Semantic Scholar lists her as a contributor to over 400 publications[35] including the following publications:

Public engagement

As part of her passion for public understanding of science, Tracey has made numerous media appearances, including on BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind.[44]

She has created and presented two radio programmes about pain: From Agony to Analgesia, a two-episode BBC programme in 2017,[45] and The Anatomy of Pain, a four-part, BBC Discovery series in 2018.[46]

Tracey's work on pain has also featured in two BBC Horizon TV documentaries; a Science Museum exhibition in London; public lectures at DANA,[47] the Oxford Museum of Natural History,[48] and the Cheltenham Science Festival; and articles in New Scientist,[49] BBC Science Focus,[50] and Good Housekeeping.[51]

The Lancet and The New Yorker have both run profiles of her.[10][14] She was interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili in April 2019 for BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific.[52] She was also listed in The Times’ Life Sciences Global Power List in 2020.[53]

Personal life

Tracey married the climate physicist Myles Allen in 1994 and has three children.[1][12]


  1. ^ a b c Anon (2017). "Tracey, Prof. Irene Mary Carmel". Who's Who (online Oxford University Press ed.). Oxford: A & C Black. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U278814. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c Irene Tracey publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  3. ^ a b Tracey, Irene Mary Carmel (1993). MRS and biochemical studies on animal models of human disease. (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 863509101. EThOS
  4. ^ "Professor Irene Tracey CBE FMedSci nominated as next Oxford Vice-Chancellor | University of Oxford". 9 May 2022. Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  5. ^ "Professor Irene Tracey". Merton College, Oxford. Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  6. ^ "Irene Tracey". Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  7. ^ "Irene Tracey announced as new FENS President-Elect". British Neuroscience Association. 15 July 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  8. ^ Edit this at Wikidata
  9. ^ a b Irene Tracey publications from Europe PubMed Central
  10. ^ a b c d e f Twilley, Nicola (July 2, 2018). "The Neuroscience of Pain".
  11. ^ a b Simpson, Craig (11 May 2020). "Oxford's Pick for top job is former state school pupil". The Daily Telegraph. p. 9.
  12. ^ a b c "People: Professor Irene Tracey". The Oxford Magazine. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  13. ^ "Professor Irene Tracey (1985)" (PDF). Postmaster and the Merton Record: 80. 2018. Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d Geoff Watts (1 July 2016). "Irene Tracey: seeing pain for what it is". The Lancet. 388 (10041): 229. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31032-7. ISSN 0140-6736. PMID 27479560. Wikidata Q47684944.
  15. ^ Willis, Charlie (13 October 2017). "Merton reveal Professor Irene Tracey as new college warden". The Oxford Student. p. 1. Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  16. ^ "The cerebral signature for pain perception in health and disease: can neuroimaging tell us anything new?". Imperial College London. 8 May 2008.
  17. ^ "Prof Irene Tracey". The Faraday Institute. Cambridge University. 20 February 2020. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  18. ^ "Irene Tracey: Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics". University of Oxford. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  19. ^ "Pembroke Honorary Fellow Professor Irene Tracey nominated as next Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford". Pembroke College, Oxford. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  20. ^ Ffrench, Andrew (10 October 2017). "Prof Irene Tracey is to be new Warden of Merton College". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  21. ^ "Installation of the New Warden". Merton College Oxford. 5 October 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  22. ^ "Oxford University vice-chancellor: Prof Irene Tracey to start role in 2023". BBC News. 10 May 2022. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  23. ^ a b c "Irene Tracey: Honorary Member". The Physiological Society. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  24. ^ "Suffrage Science: creating a web of women in science". MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences. 18 March 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  25. ^ a b Irene Tracey; Patrick W Mantyh (1 August 2007). "The cerebral signature for pain perception and its modulation". Neuron. 55 (3): 377–391. doi:10.1016/J.NEURON.2007.07.012. ISSN 0896-6273. PMID 17678852. Wikidata Q31120834.
  26. ^ Tracey, MA Irene (13 July 2017). "13 Advanced neuroimaging of pain, analgesia and anaesthesia induced altered states of consciousness". Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 88 (8): A7.1–A7. doi:10.1136/jnnp-2017-BNPA.13. eISSN 1468-330X. ISSN 0022-3050. S2CID 148625006.
  27. ^ a b Katja Wiech; Markus Ploner; Irene Tracey (5 July 2008). "Neurocognitive aspects of pain perception". Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 12 (8): 306–313. doi:10.1016/J.TICS.2008.05.005. ISSN 1364-6613. PMID 18606561. Wikidata Q34793161.
  28. ^ Anon (2014). "Life Sciences awards".
  29. ^ "Irene Tracey awarded Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  30. ^ "BNA Council member wins Feldberg Foundation Prize". British Neuroscience Association. 10 January 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  31. ^ "Irene Tracey receives BNA Outstanding Contribution to Neuroscience Award — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences". Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  32. ^ Hughes, David (5 January 2022). "New Year's Honours list 2022 in full: Everyone who has received an MBE, OBE, CBE, knighthood and damehood". i newspaper. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  33. ^ "Irene Tracey receives CBE for Services to Medical Research". Merton College, Oxford. Retrieved 2022-12-15.
  34. ^ "Irene Tracey". Retrieved 2023-05-24.
  35. ^ "I. Tracey". Semantic Scholar. Retrieved 3 January 2023.
  36. ^ Irene Tracey (2012). Pain 2012 Refresher Courses: 14th World Congress on Pain. IASP Press. ISBN 978-0-931092-93-0.
  37. ^ Tracey, Irene (2020). Pain: A Ladybird Expert Book. Penguin UK. ISBN 978-1-4059-3630-9.
  38. ^ Stephen McMahon; Martin Koltzenburg; Irene Tracey; Dennis C. Turk (21 June 2013). Wall & Melzack's Textbook of Pain: Expert Consult. Elsevier Health Sciences. ISBN 978-0-7020-4059-7.
  39. ^ Ploghaus A; Tracey I; Gati JS; Clare S; Ravi S. Menon; Paul M. Matthews; Rawlins JN (1 June 1999). "Dissociating pain from its anticipation in the human brain". Science. 284 (5422): 1979–1981. doi:10.1126/SCIENCE.284.5422.1979. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 10373114. Wikidata Q48183809.
  40. ^ A Ploghaus; C Narain; Christian F. Beckmann; et al. (1 December 2001). "Exacerbation of pain by anxiety is associated with activity in a hippocampal network". The Journal of Neuroscience. 21 (24): 9896–9903. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.21-24-09896.2001. ISSN 0270-6474. PMC 6763058. PMID 11739597. Wikidata Q48692398.
  41. ^ Susanna J Bantick; Richard G Wise; Alexander Ploghaus; Stuart Clare; Stephen M Smith; Irene Tracey (1 February 2002). "Imaging how attention modulates pain in humans using functional MRI". Brain. 125 (Pt 2): 310–319. doi:10.1093/BRAIN/AWF022. ISSN 0006-8950. PMID 11844731. Wikidata Q54748124.
  42. ^ Siri Leknes; Irene Tracey (1 April 2008). "A common neurobiology for pain and pleasure". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 9 (4): 314–320. doi:10.1038/NRN2333. ISSN 1471-003X. PMID 18354400. Wikidata Q31150166.
  43. ^ Emily A Holmes; Rory C O'Connor; V Hugh Perry; et al. (15 April 2020). "Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science". The Lancet Psychiatry. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30168-1. ISSN 2215-0366. PMC 7159850. PMID 32304649. Wikidata Q92032152.
  44. ^ Hammond, Claudia (17 December 2019). "All in the Mind: Pain and the Brain". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 4 February 2023.
  45. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - From Agony to Analgesia". BBC. Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  46. ^ "BBC World Service - Discovery, The Anatomy of Pain". BBC. Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  47. ^ Irene Tracey (1 November 2016). "Finding the Hurt in Pain". Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science. 2016. ISSN 1524-6205. PMC 5501013. PMID 28698771. Wikidata Q40957033.
  48. ^ "Get inside your own head during brain week". NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Center. 7 March 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  49. ^ Demming, Anna (16 November 2022). "New ways to measure pain can help us communicate how bad it really is". New Scientist. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  50. ^ Tracey, Irene (22 September 2020). "What is pain?". BBC Science Focus. Retrieved 6 January 2023.
  51. ^ "Pain Relief Without Pills". Good Housekeeping. UK. April 2022. pp. 98–99.
  52. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - The Life Scientific, Irene Tracey on pain in the brain". BBC. Retrieved 2022-09-23.
  53. ^ Franklin-Wallis, Oliver. "From pandemics to cancer: the science power list". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2022-09-23.

Academic offices Preceded bySteven Gunn (acting) Warden of Merton College, Oxford 2019 to 2022 Vacant Preceded byLouise Richardson Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University 2023–present Incumbent