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Top haematologist announced as new Director of MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine

21 Sep 2012

Professor Douglas R Higgs has been announced as the new Director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) at the University of Oxford, following the retirement of eminent immunologist Professor Sir Andrew McMichael.

Professor Higgs, who will continue his role as Director of the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit and Professor of Molecular Haematology at the University of Oxford, takes up his new role on October 1st 2012.

The MRC WIMM, which is based at the John Radcliffe Hospital, was founded by Professor David Weatherall in 1989 and carries out research in molecular and cell biology with direct application to the study of human disease. Housing around four hundred scientists, it is at the forefront of research to improve our understanding and treatment of diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS. In recent years, scientists at the MRC WIMM have made numerous life-changing discoveries related to blood disorders, neurological diseases, genetic conditions, cancer, malaria, HIV and influenza.

Professor Higgs qualified in Medicine at King's College Hospital Medical School in 1974 and trained as a haematologist. He joined the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in 1977 and became a fellow of the Royal Society in 2005. He has spent much of his career exploring the mechanisms of how stem cells become blood cells (haematopoiesis) and the human genetic diseases associated with these processes, such as thalassaemia.

Of his appointment, Professor Higgs said:

“It is a great honour to follow Sir David Weatherall and Sir Andrew McMichael as Director of the WIMM. The challenge will be to ensure that the Institute continues to lead the field of molecular medicine and remains true to its founding principles of applying first class basic science to important biomedical problems. In my view the key to this will be to recruit and retain the finest scientists, to provide a cutting edge infrastructure and to encourage adventurous science within the stimulating, collegiate environment created by previous Directors.”

Professor Weatherall said of the new appointment:

“Professor Higgs is an excellent scientist with all the personal qualities required to continue the good work of his predecessor, Professor Sir Andrew McMichael, and, in particular, he has the vision to develop and expand the research on cell and molecular biology for its application to the study of human disease which has been the major objective of the Institute since it was first established in 1989."

Professor McMichael, who has led the MRC WIMM for the past twelve years, is delighted to be handing over the reins to his colleague:

“I am thrilled to hand over to Doug Higgs. He is a brilliant medical scientist who will keep the MRC WIMM buzzing as an exciting place to work, while maintaining its friendly collaborative ethos”.

MRC Chief Executive Sir John Savill said:

“I am delighted that Professor Higgs has agreed to lead the MRC WIMM, an international pioneer in translational medical research. Professor Higgs is an exceptional scientist and has made significant contributions to the field of haematology through his research and in his role as Director of the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit. The institute has distinguished itself in the field of molecular medicine and has had a profound influence on the study of a wide spectrum of diseases and I am confident that it will continue to flourish as it enters this exciting new era.”

Professor Alastair Buchan, head of medical sciences at Oxford University, said:

‘The MRC WIMM is highly regarded worldwide for its research excellence in the biology underpinning disease, and Professor Doug Higgs is the perfect appointment as the institute’s new director. I am delighted he has accepted the role. We also offer our warmest wishes and thanks to Professor Sir Andrew McMichael as he leaves this role. A scientist of true international repute and standing, contributing much to the understanding of HIV immunology and vaccine development, he has also run the MRC WIMM with great skill. He leaves the institute with its position at the forefront of the research endeavour ensured.’

The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton, said:

‘The MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine has been key to enabling multidisciplinary research in the medical sciences at Oxford University. It provides a lab environment where clinicians and scientists can come together and produce top quality research. Its success and its place in Oxford medicine has been aided by great leadership – something that I have every confidence will continue as Professor Doug Higgs takes up this new role.’

Notes to editors:

For further information, interviews or photographs please contact Jude Eades, MRC regional communications manager, on 07920 768194 or at

Research at the MRC WIMM is funded primarily by the Medical Research Council, the University of Oxford and Cancer Research UK. Significant funding has also come from the Wellcome Trust, the Wolfson Foundation and other medical research charities.


  • Categories: Corporate
  • Health categories: Generic
  • Strategic objectives: Aim: Supporting scientists
  • Locations: Oxford
  • Type: News article