Prof Dame Ingrid Allen - A Tribute
Professor Emerita and Honorary Professor of Neuropathology at Queen’s University Belfast
To say that Prof Dame Ingrid Allen was a pioneer and paved the way for many that have come after her is an understatement, and we are indebted to her. Professor Denise Fitzgerald
School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences
A personal tribute to the extraordinary career and legacy of our colleague and friend, Professor Dame Ingrid Allen
by Professor Denise Fitzgerald, SMDBS
Prof Dame Ingrid Allen had a highly distinguished career in medicine with an international reputation for her research, particularly in viral infections of the nervous system and in Multiple Sclerosis. She was regarded as a major global leader in her field.
She held visiting professorships in India, Singapore, Chicago, Maryland, Malaysia and Bosnia and delivered invited lectures all over the world. She authored > 200 publications, including as recently as 2018.
Her research drove seminal advances in neuropathology. This included research on an inflammatory brain condition that was occurring in children in Belfast in the 1960s. This condition was almost always fatal. The research team discovered that measles virus was the cause of this devastating condition which has now been mostly prevented by measles vaccination programmes.
Ingrid held a number of highly-regarded professional positions. She was Professor of Neuropathology, Queen’s University, Belfast, from 1979 – 1997.
She was Consultant and Director of the Northern Ireland Regional Neuropathology Service and through this leadership she greatly developed neuropathology service in Northern Ireland.
She was also Director of the Research and Development Office in Northern Ireland from 1997-2002 which expanded clinical and biomedical research across a wide range of health topics.
She was a member of the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), and chaired its Neurosciences Board from 1989-1993
She also Chaired the Medical Advisory Panel of the Parkinson's Disease Society and was a member of the board of the Association of Medical Research Charities in London.
Ingrid founded, and was first Editor-In-Chief, of the journal called ‘Multiple Sclerosis’ which has been running since the 1990s and has published research studies on MS from around the world.
Ingrid received many honours in recognition of her professional achievements.
She became a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1993 and was a founding Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998.
Most notably, Ingrid’s contributions to medical research were recognised with a CBE in 1993 and a (DBE) in the 2001 Birthday Honours List.
She achieved all this at a time when women faced significant barriers in the workplace. Ingrid’s portrait now hangs in the Great Hall in Queen's University as part of the QGI portraits collection of inspirational women. Other portraits of women in the Great Hall include Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese (a QGI portrait), and Queen Victoria who founded the University. In 2018, the Annual Gender Equality Lecture in Queen’s was named the Dame Ingrid Allen Lecture – the first such lecture to be named after a woman in QUB.
A Personal Perspective
While this snapshot of the full list of Ingrid’s professional recognition and achievements is extraordinary, I would like to finish by commenting on the personal impact Ingrid had on myself and my Multiple Sclerosis research Team in QUB.
When I arrived to QUB in 2009 Ingrid had retired. However, that did not stop her providing immense support to myself and my young team. Ingrid came to our lab meetings, gave me feedback on my grant applications, and helped prepare me for a research funding interview that secured our MS research in QUB. Her intellectual insights were invaluable and motivated us to strive to do the best research we could. To this day I teach my students, a central tenet of MS research that Ingrid so wonderfully explained to me the first time we met.
In addition to this bigger-picture support, Ingrid also got stuck into research experiments with us, analysing tissue on the microscope and helping to make sense of surprising discoveries. She was a co-author on a paper we published in 2017 which was awarded the Research of the Year Prize by the UK MS Society. My colleague Yvonne Dombrowski and I visited Ingrid to show her the Award and while she was clearly happy about the achievement of the award coming to Northern Ireland, she was particularly pleased that it has been awarded to two women!
To say that Prof Dame Ingrid Allen was a pioneer and paved the way for many that have come after her is an understatement, and we are indebted to her.
I will finish with the sentiment of Prof Alan Thompson, current Editor-in-Chief of the Multiple Sclerosis Journal:
"I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Ingrid and made several trips to Belfast, in what were challenging times. My abiding memory of Ingrid was her warmth, support and enthusiasm for the work we were doing. It was a great pleasure and an honour for me to have known someone who leaves such a permanent mark both on the MS world and all those individuals fortunate enough to have known and worked with her."
A Portrait of Professor Dame Ingrid Allen by Artist, Tom Hallifax is available in the Great Hall, Lanyon Building, Queen's University. This was commissioned by Queen's Gender Initiative as part of the QGI portraits collection of inspirational women.
CLICK HERE to join Denise Price (QGI Executive Committee member) and Ben Crothers (Curator, Naughton Gallery) on a tour of the QGI Portraits in the Great Hall as part of the QGI 21st Anniversary Celebrations.