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Professor Alison Murdoch

Centenary Souvenir


Professor of Reproductive Medicine, Newcastle University and Consultant Gynaecologist, Newcastle Professor Alison Murdoch always wanted to be a mother, and perhaps that is why she entered the world of fertility. Alison was born and educated in Manchester. Her father was a doctor and died when she was young, but she always thought she would follow in his footsteps. She went to Edinburgh Medical School and got married while she was still a student. She qualified in 1975 and moved to Northumberland for her first medical appointments. A lison then completed her obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) training in Newcastle, much of it as a part-time trainee as a result of having four children. She also completed an MD thesis. She was appointed a full-time General O&G Consultant in 1991, but became interested in reproductive medicine, and established the first North East regional fertility service in Newcastle. A few years later, she stopped the obstetrics component and soon after, general gynaecology to concentrate on fertility. Alison was awarded a personal Chair in 2003 although she remained a full-time NHS employee, until she retired from clinical practice at the age of 65, in 2016. She continues her involvement with many ongoing funded research projects. In 1999 when she was unable to obtain adequate facilities for a tertiary fertility service at her hospital, she made her best and perhaps riskiest career move. She took the NHS clinic off site to the International Centre for Life where it has flourished ever since. Now recognised as one of the leading NHS fertility centres in the UK, the Centre undertakes 1,000 cycles of IVF a year, and Alison’s team have been actively involved in research in the early stages of preimplantation human development for 25 years. The Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life provides treatments both according to NICE recommendations and within eighteen weeks of referral. There was a time when Alison was just one of two people in the UK who could legally clone human embryos, and these licences for cloning work are hard to get. Recent successful research to reduce the risk of transmission of mitochondrial disease to the baby has led to UK legislation to enable the translation of the techniques to clinical practice. Alison’s principal role in this was the ethical and regulatory issues related to embryo research and

the donation of embryos and eggs for research. Given the high level of public and political interest internationally in this type of research, this has involved active involvement in many public engagement events. Controversy and bureaucracy is something Alison has learnt to overcome. Her challenges have taught her only to take on tasks that are achievable. “Plan your goal, discuss with colleagues, reflect, document your strategy then discuss and reflect again. When you know that you are right and it is achievable, go for it, be patient and don’t be put off,” she advises. Alison recognises that the use of embryos to create embryonic stem cell lines raised many moral objections and required public, political and regulatory debate and negotiation to be accepted in the UK. The centre in Newcastle, under her direction, banked one of the first lines in the UK and although the therapeutic consequences were not what she expected, the work resulted in a new biological understanding of stem cells and the emergence of Regenerative Medicine. Alison is very proud of this aspect of her career. Alison is inspired by Dame Mary Warnock, for her understanding that moral conflict does not preclude making moral conclusions. This resulted in the permissive legislation in the UK about assisted conception that is internationally respected. She also admires Dames Anne McLaren for her wisdom and understanding of its clinical context. * Favourite Film: Sophie’s Choice – a literary ‘kick in the gut’ that stopped me eating or sleeping for days * Three objects Alison cannot live without: Food, Drink, Warm bed

Alison’s advice to junior doctors is “Doctors are trained to think, analyse, make changes and thus be managers. Relate this to your working environment, your clinical team, as well as clinical decisions. Smile, be positive, firm and take control of your destiny within the NHS.”


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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