Honorary Members

Photograph: Douglas Vernimmen

Honorary Members of the Genetics Society are distinguished and eminent members of the Genetics community. They are elected by the Committee, reflecting their outstanding contributions to Genetics.

A selection of biographies:

Professor Dame Kay Elizabeth Davies M.A., D.Phil., F.MedSci., FRCP (hon), FRCPath, CBE, FRS

Kay Davies is the Dr Lee’s Professor of Anatomy in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Honorary Director of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit and Associate Head of Division (Development, Impact and Equality) at the University of Oxford. Her research interests lie in the molecular analysis of human genetic disease, particularly the genetic basis of neuromuscular and neurological disorders. [expand title=”Read more”]

She began her career in Oxford as a chemistry undergraduate, followed by a DPhil in Biochemistry. After a short postdoc in France, she joined Bob Williamson’s department in St Mary’s Hospital in London where she began work on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) which is caused by the absence of dystrophin. She has been working on the molecular analysis of this devastating progressive muscle wasting disease for more than 30 years.

Prof. Dame Kay initially developed the first DNA probes for prenatal diagnosis and carrier detection and currently focuses on the development of effective treatments for DMD.  She identified the dystrophin-related protein utrophin and demonstrated that increasing levels of this protein could prevent the pathology in a mouse model of the disease.  She co-founded Vastox plc (now Summit plc) in order to take drugs that increase levels of utrophin to the clinic for DMD. In 1999, she set up the MRC Functional Genetics (now Genomics) Unit which aims to use genome information for the analysis of the function of genes to aid the development of new treatments for neurological disorders. Over the last ten years, she has been using ENU mouse mutants to model movement and behavioural disorders. One of these mutants links synaptic dysfunction for the first time to abnormal circadian rhythms and schizophrenia endophenotypes.

Dame Kay has won numerous prizes for her research and published more than 350 peer-reviewed papers. She has an active interest in the ethical implications of genomics research and in promoting public understanding of science, appearing at Science Festivals, in newspaper reports on television and on radio (including Desert Island Discs).  She has served on many Committees for charities and government organisations and has been a Governor of the Wellcome Trust since 2003.  She is the founding editor of the journal Human Molecular Genetics.  She is currently a Director of the American Society of Human Genetics, the first year Europeans have been elected to this role. Professor Davies is a founding fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003.  She was awarded a CBE in 1995 and a DBE in 2008 in recognition of her many contributions to medical research. [/expand]

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys FRS

Prof. Sir Alec Jeffreys studied biochemistry and genetics at Merton College, Oxford. Following an EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Amsterdam where, with Dr Richard Flavell, he was one of the first to discover split genes, he moved in 1977 to the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester where he currently holds the positions of Professor of Genetics and Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor.[expand title=”Read more”]

Sir Alec’s research at Leicester has focussed on exploring human DNA variation and the mutation processes that create this diversity. He was one of the first to discover inherited variation in human DNA, then went on to invent DNA fingerprinting, showing how it could be used to resolve issues of identity and kinship. His current work concentrates on developing new approaches to analysing variation and mutation in human chromosomes.

Sir Alec’s work has received widespread recognition, including his election to the Royal Society in 1986 and a Knighthood for services to genetics in 1994. Other awards include the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine (2004), the Lasker Award (2005) and the Heineken Prize (2006). He was also one of the four finalists for the Millennium Prize in 2008.[/expand]

Professor Sir Paul Nurse FRS

Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist who has worked on how the eukaryotic cell cycle is controlled and how cell shape and cell dimensions are determined.  His major work has been on the cyclin-dependent protein kinases and how they regulate cell reproduction.  [expand title=”Read more”]

He is a past President of the Royal Society (2010-2015), current Director of the Francis Crick Institute in London and has served as Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and President of Rockefeller University.  He shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and has received the Albert Lasker Award, the Royal Society’s Royal and Copley Medals, and the Genetics Society Centenary medal.  He was knighted in 1999 and received the Legion d’honneur in 2003.[/expand]


Professor Veronica van Heyningen FRS

Veronica van Heyningen has been captivated by genetics from early school days, leading her to study Part II Genetics in Cambridge. Her DPhil in Oxford, with Walter Bodmer, focused on pre-DNA era human gene mapping using somatic cell hybrids. It was at this time that she joined the Genetics Society and later acted as Treasurer.  [expand title=”Read more”]

As a postdoc and young group leader at the MRC Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, she used positional cloning to identify major genes implicated in developmental eye malformations. The collaborative work contributed to high density chromosome-specific gene maps that aided the original human genome assembly. But primarily it led to identification of major transcriptional regulators in eye (and brain) development, including PAX6, SOX2 and OTX2 genes. Carefully observed cases of eye malformations in humans, and in animal models, led to deciphering of gene functions including dosage sensitivity and gene interactions. In addition to defining intragenic point mutations, observation of disease-causing chromosomal breakpoints and variants well outside the recognized coding regions highlighted the importance of conserved enhancers in long-range control of gene expression which emerged as a major interest.

Veronica arrived in Edinburgh as a Beit Memorial Fellow. 35 years at MRC HGU saw her progress to Section Head and Honorary Professor at Edinburgh University. For five years she was a Howard Hughes International Research Scholar and later a founding member on the UK Government’s Human Genetics Commission.

She was elected a Fellow, successively, of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1997), the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999) and the Royal Society (2007). She is an EMBO Member who served on EMBO Council. She has also served as President of the European Society of Human Genetics and as President of the Genetics Society (2009-20212). In 2010 she was awarded a CBE for services to science.

Now “retired”, Veronica remains an Honorary Professor both at Edinburgh University and at University College London. Attached to the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, she continues co-supervision of students and mentoring of young independent scientists. Membership of scientific advisory boards, ERC panels, and a number of Royal Society committees keep her engaged. She has been President of the Galton Institute and is Patron of the patient organization Aniridia Network UK.