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Professor Irene Leigh

Centenary Souvenir


Professor of Cellular & Molecular Medicine, Dundee Professor Irene Leigh was born and educated in Liverpool. She completed her undergraduate medical training and intercalated BSc (Hons) in Anatomy at the London Hospital Medical College and was one of only eight female medical students in her year. She regrets not finding her voice when she was the only woman in a room full of men, but knows that she is not alone in that plight. Her then husband, a junior doctor, had to ask the Dean of the medical school for permission to marry Irene. Irene had her first child when she was a junior doctor, and returned to work after only four weeks of annual leave. She obtained her MRCP the same year. Irene then spent two years as a lecturer in medicine at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, before returning to Registrar and Senior Registrar positions in London. She trained as a dermatologist at St George’s Hospital and as a Senior Registrar at the Middlesex Hospital and St John’s Institute of Dermatology. In 1983, Irene was appointed a Consultant Dermatologist at the London Hospital and was also a Research Fellow attached to the ICRF (now the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute). Shortly after her appointment, Irene established a research laboratory, the Centre for Cutaneous Research at Barts and The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London which later developed into a premier research centre in skin biology and disease. Irene became seriously interested in research late in her medical training and was greatly helped on her way by the mentorship of a female scientist, Joyce Taylor Papadimitriou at the ICRF. Irene asked Joyce whether psoriatic keratinocytes responded differently to epidermal growth factor than normal keratinocytes and Joyce encouraged Irene to come into her lab to learn the (then) new technology of keratinocyte culture. This was Irene’s best career move. Joyce also supported Irene when she was appointed a Consultant as her desire to set up a research lab was met with disbelief from those around her. Eventually, Irene was allocated two empty broom cupboards, and these became her first laboratory. Her links with ICRF helped as they gave her some second-hand equipment and a technician. Irene’s research centre now employs more than sixty-five researchers, and she oversees research programmes on nonmelanoma skin cancer, HPV, hair biology, genetic disease, tissue engineering, stem cells, epithelial differentiation and urogenital cancer, each led by a team leader or faculty member and still

centred around keratinocyte biology. In 1992, Irene became Professor of Dermatology having completed an MD degree, and Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine in 1999, when she received a DSc (Med), and she was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Science. She acted as Research Dean between 1997-2002 and subsequently Joint Research Director of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry NHS Trust. She was also Dean for e-learning and is most proud of the fact that she has mentored six female dermatology Professors. In 2006, Irene was honoured with an OBE for services to medicine and became Vice-Principal and Head of College of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing at the University of Dundee and additionally Vice-Principal for Research in 2009. She stepped down from these roles at the end of 2011 but retains a research Professorship at the University of Dundee. She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2009, was President of the Association of Physicians of UK and Ireland from 2010-2011, and a Council member of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Irene was President of the Rene Touraine Foundation and is Past-President of the European Society for Dermatological Research and organised a major investigative dermatology meeting in Edinburgh. She has served on multiple grant giving bodies, including the European Research Council, is co-Principal Investigator on a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award for Dermatology and Genetic Medicine, and is Director of the Clinical Network of DGEM:BADGEM. In 2012, Irene was awarded a CBE and the Archibald Gray Medal of the British Association of Dermatologists. Irene lives with her non-medical second husband. * Favourite Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen * Three objects Irene cannot live without: Family photos, Electronic diary, Kindle loaded with e-books

Irene’s advice to junior doctors is “Research is fun and mind expanding.”


Medical Woman – Magazine Centenary Issue, April 2017  

The magazine for the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF), the largest and most influential body of women doctors in the UK which aims to promot...

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