Anne McLaren colour portrait

Dame Anne McLaren
1927-2007

An eminent biologist, Anne was a much loved and valued early member of the Institute

Biography

Anne McLaren (1927-2007) was one of the most eminent and highly respected reproductive biologists of the twentieth century. Her most enduring interest as a scientist was in germ cells and early mammalian development. Her work helped to further recognition of the importance of stem cells in the treatment of human disease, and her research in the basic science underlying the treatment of infertility helped develop several human-assisted reproduction techniques.

McLaren received an impressive array of awards for her contributions to the field, including the March of Dimes and the Japan Prizes (2002 and 2007). She held positions of highest office across a wide range of fields during her career, as Founding Director of the Medical Research Council Mammalian Development Unit at University College London (1974-1992), Fellow of the Royal Society (1975), fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1986), Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution (1990-1995), President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1993-1994), and Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1998).

McLaren’s influence also extended beyond science. She was, for example, famously the first woman to hold office in the 330-year-old history of the Royal Society, becoming its Foreign Secretary in 1991 (to 1996), and a year later its Vice President (1992-1996), and did much to promote the advancement of women in science. She also played a public role in ethical discussions on science as a member of the Warnock Committee tasked with making recommendations to government concerning regulation of human fertilisation and embryology in the wake of the ‘legal vacuum’ created by the birth of Louise Brown in 1978.

Anne McLaren seated between two Japanese geishas, eating from a bowl

Anne McLaren Fellowships are awarded to outstanding female postdoctoral researchers in science, technology, engineering and medicine, who are at the early stage of their academic careers and who wish to establish a research career in the UK; they are based at Nottingham University.  Read about the scheme and current and past Fellows at the link below.

Book cover for Mammalian Chimaeras by Anne McLaren

Background

Anne was the daughter of Henry McLaren, 2nd Baron Aberconway, and Christabel McNaughten. The family had homes in London and Bodnant, north Wales, and she gained a zoology degree at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. She completed her postgraduate degree at Oxford, and obtained her DPhil in 1952 under the guidance of Kingsley Sanders. The topic of her thesis was murine neurotropic viruses. In the same year that she obtained her doctorate she married Donald Michie.

Anne worked together with Donald at University College London (1952-55) and at the Royal Veterinary College, London (1955-59). During this time, the couple studied the effects of the maternal environment in mice on the number of lumbar vertebrae. This work led them to take an interest in the technique of embryo transfer and implantation, showing it was possible to culture mouse embryos in a test tube and obtain live young after placing them in the uterus of a surrogate mother.

Following her divorce from Donald in 1959, Anne continued her work on mammalian fertility, embryo transfer techniques, immunocontraception, and the mixing of early embryos to form chimaeras (organisms consisting of two or more genetically different kinds of tissue) at the Institute of Animal Genetics. Her book on chimaeras, published in 1976, became a classic in the field (see cover image). In 1974 she became the director of the Medical Research Council mammalian development unit at University College London. Here she developed her enduring interest in the development differentiation of mammalian primordial germ cells. Her book, Germ Cells and Soma: A New Look at an Old Problem, was published in 1980 and became another classic in the field (image below).

Bookcover for 'Germ Cells and Soma' by Anne McLaren

After retiring from the Medical Research Council in 1992, she became principal research associate at what was to become the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, a position she still held at the time of her death in a car accident in 2007.

Tributes to Anne McLaren as received by the Gurdon Institute.

Obituaries

The Guardian: Anne McLaren and Donald Michie
Daily Telegraph: Anne McLaren and Donald Michie
The Times: Anne McLaren and Donald Michie

 

The Anne McLaren Memorial Trust Fund was set up in Anne’s memory and supplies funds for events, activities or the work of scholars in STEM.

View a compendium of lecture series and events named after Anne or held in memory of her and her work.

Read a longer biography on the Dept of Zoology website, with links to further materials.

The British Library holds an extensive archive of Anne’s papers.

A 2017 blog post from the British Library is illustrated with Anne’s notebook excerpts (scroll towards end of page).

For enquiries about Anne’s life and work please use our enquiry form on the Contact Us page.