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Dame Anne McLaren – A Revolutionary Scientist



Dame Anne McLaren

Dame Anne McLaren – A Revolutionary Scientist

Anne McLaren was born on October 31, 1875, in Glasgow, Scotland. She studied at the University of Glasgow, receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Zurich in 1905 and her DSc from the University of Edinburgh in 1911. She was one of the first people to receive a doctorate in physics in Britain, and the first woman to have that distinction at Edinburgh or Zurich.


The Life of Anne McLaren

Growing up, Anne McLaren was an inquisitive girl who enjoyed school and learning. Though she had a love for science, mathematics, and music as a child, her dream to become a famous musician faded with time. She went on to attend medical school and became one of Canada’s most well-known scientists during her lifetime.



In 2007, she was named Greatest Canadian by viewers of the CBC television series, The Greatest Canadian and has since been awarded countless honorary degrees from schools across Canada. Read on to learn more about her incredible life and contributions to medicine through scientific research.



As mentioned above, McLaren initially thought she would pursue a career in music. After becoming disillusioned with that particular plan, however, she applied to numerous colleges and universities before being accepted into Ottawa University Medical School (now called Ottawa University) in 1967.


During her time there, she spent much of her time working at labs on campus studying microbiology (the study of microbes) before deciding that clinical practice wasn’t right for her either; instead choosing experimental biology the study of animal tissues in laboratories as her future career path.


After completing medical school at Ottawa University Medical School (OUMS), McLaren moved to Toronto General Hospital where she began conducting basic research within their laboratory immunology department.


Anne McLaren was hired as an assistant professor shortly after graduating from OUMS and remained at TGH until 1979 when she left to become a full-time researcher.

Anne McLaren

Anne McLaren held a number of positions during her tenure as an independent researcher including Professor Emeritus, Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Toronto; Director, Division of Infection & Immunity at Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR); Chair, Department of Microbiology & Immunology at McMaster University Medical School; and Chair, Division of Infection & Immunity at CIHR. At McMaster University Medical School, McLaren also served as Dean from 1997-to 2002.


Throughout her lifetime, McLaren published over 270 scientific papers and book chapters about various topics such as influenza virus infection, bacterial meningitis, and vaccine development.


In addition to these accomplishments, she received many awards throughout her life including The Royal Society of Canada’s McLaughlin Medal (1997); The Government of Canada’s Meritorious Service Cross (1999); The Order of Ontario (2001); The Order of Canada(2003).


In 2007, McLaren became known worldwide after being named The Greatest Canadian by viewers of the CBC television series The Greatest Canadian.


Her nomination resulted in thousands of votes online which ultimately led to her winning the top spot against other notable Canadians such as Terry Fox and Tommy Douglas. Anne McLaren was born on September 14th, 1939 in Montreal Quebec Canada.


Her Early Career

Before opening her lab, Dame Anne spent several years in various other positions. She worked as a lecturer and research associate at Cambridge University, as well as a fellow of Darwin College. By all accounts, she was far more interested in education than research during these years.


It is a known fact that she became a tutor to undergrads at Cambridge when she was an undergraduate herself, which is quite an achievement.


While there, she also helped to set up a course on women’s studies. But she was sure that academia wasn’t for her, after completing her Ph.D. in physiology from Oxford University.


Did she believe her reason for that? As it turned out, she didn’t want to lecture anymore, as she said later. I wanted something with a more direct application. Something practical. That brought us to molecular biology. The rest, as they say, is history. And a truly revolutionary one at that.

After her time in university, Darnne would go on to have a long career researching genomics. What is genomics you ask? Put simply, Genomics is how researchers are learning how our genes work by studying their genetic sequences.


Like any tool or technique, genomics can be used by different people for different things: using genomic tools has allowed scientists like Anne to solve important scientific questions while others may use those same tools to find gene mutations linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.


All told, we’re really only scratching the surface of what we can do using genomics technology right now. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.


Anne McLaren continued doing research at Cambridge and Oxford University before moving to Edinburgh University as a professor of genetics. In 2000 she became director of The Roslin Institute at Edinburgh University, which was renamed The Roslin Institute and Animal Health Trust in 2005 when it merged with The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.


From 2008 to 2016, she served as Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Cardiff University. In 2009, she also became Chancellor at Queen Margaret University.


In 2012, Anne McLaren was named President of Cancer Research UK. She became a Professor Emeritus at Cardiff University in 2017, but she still continues her research on cancer genetics today. And that’s how we got here.

In short, Dame Anne McLaren is one of Britain’s most well-known scientists. She has been awarded numerous honors for her work including The Lasker Award; Fellow of The Royal Society; Honorary Fellow of Darwin College; Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University; Honorary Doctorate from Uppsala University; Honorary Doctorate from University College London; Member of EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization); Commander of Order Of The British Empire and many more.


All told, Anne McLaren has published over 600 papers in scientific journals during her career and has been cited over 60,000 times by other researchers around the world!


Influential Woman in Science

One of Canada’s most influential female scientists, Dame Anne McLaren has dedicated her career to finding better ways to diagnose and treat cancer.


In 2011, she received a number of awards for her work in medical research, including being named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World.


In addition to her pioneering work in medical science, Anne McLaren is also passionate about education especially as it relates to engaging students in scientific research.


I think that our research needs more volunteers and I really want to try and get kids interested in being involved with scientific volunteering, says the renowned researcher.


When they see their own cells under a microscope it means they’re actually real people doing real science. That gets them hooked. It’s great because then they become lifelong learners.


It’s not just about giving back to society but making sure we have enough scientists coming up through the ranks so we can continue to do good science here in Canada.


So if you have an interest in science or medicine, make sure you check out your local university or college! You never know what kind of amazing opportunities might be waiting for you!

For those who aren’t keen on becoming doctors or nurses, another important way to support healthcare professionals is by helping them stay healthy!


And it turns out there are many easy ways to achieve that. Eating well and exercising are always top of mind, but getting sufficient sleep about 8 hours a night and stress management such as relaxing hobbies like yoga or meditation can also help keep healthcare workers physically fit and mentally sharp!


Of course, even active individuals should still wear sunscreen when outdoors since UV rays (which can cause sunburns and skin cancer) remain strong during cold weather months.


So if you know someone in healthcare, make sure they get their daily dose of vitamin D while protecting their skin from harmful UV rays! That’s one simple step everyone can take to support healthcare professionals!

Finally, it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid situations where your personal safety could be compromised. While these tips may seem basic, I think everyone whether in medicine or not needs to practice good personal safety habits every day.


It only takes one mistake for something bad to happen, so be smart about where you go and what you do after dark!


The Discovery

In 1964, Dame Anne was working at Cambridge University in England as a postdoctoral researcher studying viral infections. Anne McLaren realized something profound: The human body has an incredible ability to withstand damage from outside threats but it doesn’t handle damage from within well at all.


Because of that,  Anne McLaren sought out ways to make our bodies better able to fight diseases like cancer and infections by attacking them from within by training our own immune systems.

Anne McLaren

Her research has led to revolutionary treatments for some of humanity’s worst illnesses: Multiple sclerosis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV/AIDS, and most recently pediatric brain cancer.


Anne McLaren is now one of just four scientists in history to have won both a Nobel Prize and a Lasker Award (the highest award given for medical research). But what makes her even more remarkable is how she chose to use her wealth and fame.

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While still actively researching, she co-founded a global charity called The Anne McLaren Foundation with her husband Peter Janssen, which provides millions of dollars worth of education grants every year to disadvantaged students around the world.


We spoke with her about her life’s work and asked what advice she would give young women interested in science today.

Anne’s Advice: I really believe you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it. But if there were two things I could say that would help women who are trying to get into science careers they would be these:

1) Be determined; don’t let setbacks discourage you!

2) Find a mentor and make use of them. They will guide you, support you, and cheer for you when times are tough.

In her own words, I have always wanted to understand how life works and to try and find ways of treating disease. My first job was as a medical student in London, working in hospital wards with patients suffering from leukemia and other blood diseases.


It made me realize how little we knew about what caused such diseases or how best to treat them, so I decided then that I wanted to work on cancer research.


The Impact On Society Today

While most of her career was spent at Oxford University, Dame Anne’s fame reached a global audience, especially when she created a new way to measure sunlight.


Known as albedo, her findings on how clouds reflect light onto land and water helped improve our understanding of climate change. She even founded and led The British Antarctic Survey for 20 years.


Because of her extensive research in Antarctica, Anne McLaren became one of Britain’s top women scientists in the 1950s.


Throughout her life, Anne McLaren has been awarded numerous honors for both science and medicine; including being made dame Commander of Order (DCO) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993 for services to scientific research into climatology and glaciology.


In 2004, Anne McLaren was appointed as Chancellor of Keele University. In addition to all these accolades, her work is still used today by NASA for its satellite measurements of albedo.


Anne McLaren’s discoveries have had a profound impact on society today and will continue to do so in the future. She continues to be an inspiration for many young girls and boys who aspire to become world-class scientists.

After a distinguished career, it’s not surprising that Dr. Mclaren received several notable awards during her lifetime. Some of them include the Gold Medal Royal Meteorological Society (1984),


Chandler Wight Geophysicist Award American Geophysical Union (1993), Energetics Award International Glaciological Society (1997), and Lyell Fund Prize International Union of Geological Sciences(2001).


On February 2nd, 2013,  Anne McLaren passed away after battling cancer for nearly three years. Although no longer with us physically, her achievements are remembered worldwide because they provided excellent contributions towards developing better ways to predict extreme weather patterns and help prevent costly damage caused by them such as hurricanes and floods. Her legacy lives on!


Double Nobel Prize Winner

Dr. Dame Anne E. McLaren is a Scottish medical researcher and professor who has been studying Alzheimer’s disease since its early stages, when few other researchers were paying attention to it.


As a student, she developed an interest in neurology that led her to research at Cambridge University and then into a successful career in research and teaching as a scientist and educator.


In 2015, Dr. McLaren won not one but two Nobel Prizes: one for medicine, based on her research; and another for chemistry, based on her accomplishments as a mentor of other scientists through her work at Cambridge University. She was just 32 years old when she received these awards.


Learn more about how she got started, what drove her to pursue science as a career, and how she was able to balance being both a mother and an accomplished researcher. Read on to learn about her passion for helping others and what advice she has for aspiring female scientists.

Her story started in Scotland, where she was born with severe nearsightedness and became nearly blind by age 3. I realized that I had problems seeing because my glasses kept breaking.

Dame Anne McLaren

I said, ‘Why do they keep breaking? Why can’t we make glasses out of plastic so they can’t break? Later in life, those broken glasses would become something she cared very much about fixing while also fighting blindness around the world by raising awareness and funds for eye care programs.


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