Introduction to the Department
Brief introduction to the department
The Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics is the largest pre-clinical department within the Division of Medical Sciences. Newly formed in January 2006, it maintains a strong and unique identity in the UK under the leadership of Professor Peter Robbins.
The Department operates in three buildings, the Sherrington Building, which is linked both to the Oxford Centre for Gene Function and the Burdon Sanderson Cardiac Science Centre, the Le Gros Clark Building, and the Tinsley Building that houses the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour.
The research interests of members of the Department are grouped into six broad areas: Ion channels, transporters and signalling, Functional genomics, Neuroscience, Development and reproduction, Metabolism and endocrinology, and Cardiac science. These areas of interest extend into a number of disease-related research themes of the Medical Sciences Division at Oxford. The Department also hosts the MRC Functional Genomics Unit. Strengthened by links with physical sciences, life sciences and clinical departments in Oxford, its forward-looking strategy is to address some of the major issues in biomedical science using many of the latest advances in structural biology, genomics and genetics, cell biology, computer modelling
and in vivo systems physiology.
Brief history of the department
The Department of Physiology Anatomy and Genetics is a department within the Division of Medical Sciences of the University of Oxford. It is involved in the teaching of medicine, anatomy and physiology to undergraduates and has a broad research programme offering opportunities for graduate and post-doctoral research.
Medicine has been taught at the University of Oxford for at least eight centuries, producing a succession of famous figures, and landmarks in research and learning. There was a golden period in the second half of the seventeenth century, when Harvey, Boyle, Willis, Highmore and Petty influenced physiology and anatomy profoundly, and contributed to the newly-formed Royal Society. However, modern physiology at Oxford has its starting point in the foundation of the University Museum in 1860. Physiology as a separate Department was opened in 1883, under the direction of the first Waynflete Professor of Physiology, J. Burdon Sanderson. His name is now commemorated by the newly established Cardiac Science Centre of Physiology. One of his major interests was electrophysiological research and electrophysiology has remained a major theme of departmental research, culminating in the era of Sherrington and Eccles which transformed modern neurophysiology. During Colin Blakemore’s tenure of the Waynflete Chair for 25 years, neuroscience continued to be one of the major strengths in Physiology. JS Haldane joined the department in 1887 and started the tradition of metabolic and respiratory physiology in the Department, while cellular and molecular physiology represent more recent strong developments.
The Department of Human Anatomy was established as a separate entity in 1893, but the study of Anatomy in Oxford can be traced back to the sixteenth century. Oxford has had a succession of renowned anatomists (see above), and a notable early scientific collaboration between William Harvey and Nathaniel Highmore was on the embryonic development of the chick. More recent Dr Lee’s Professors of Anatomy include Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clark, Geoffrey Harris, Charles Phillips and Ray Guillery who established the strong research interests of the Department in the Central Nervous System and in Endocrinology, which still feature prominently today. For more details visit the “Oxford History of Science Seminar Series” and the historic repository for the University of Oxford Medical at https://learntech.imsu.ox.ac.uk/historyofmedsci/.
Over the past twenty years, the Department has also built up a strong reputation in Developmental Biology. The appointment of Professor Kay Davies as Lee’s Professor of Anatomy has established significant expertise in Functional Genetics. The Henry Wellcome Building of Gene Function was opened in 2003 and was a joint addition to both Anatomy and Physiology.
Following the forward academic vision for the development of the preclinical school the Medical Sciences Division merged the Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics and the University Laboratory of Physiology to create the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics in January 2006. Professor Sir George Radda FRS became the department's first head, succeeded in 2008 by Professor Dame Kay Davies FRS. Ever since Sherrington’s time research in Anatomy and Physiology have progressed in parallel and often overlapped. The merger enabled the new Department to consolidate the research activities of the two former Departments and created opportunities for new research alignments. The research programmes are multidisciplinary and span from studies of the single gene to the function of the whole organism. The current Head of Department, appointed in October 2011, is Professor Peter Robbins.