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Professor of Genetics


Dame Kay Davies CBE, DBE, F.MedSci, FRS researches the molecular analysis of human genetic disease, particularly the genetic basis of neuromuscular and neurological disorders. She first became interested in muscular dystrophy more than 30 years ago and her research group is particularly dedicated to finding an effective treatment for the muscle wasting disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). She is co-founder and co-director of the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre. In the 1980s, with collaborators, she developed the first DNA test which allowed for the screening of foetuses whose mothers have a high risk of carrying DMD. DMD occurs when the dystrophin protein fails to express in muscle cells due to a mutation in the gene which codes for the protein. In 1989, Professor Davies discovered that the utrophin protein has similar properties to dystrophin and has since shown in animal models that up-regulation of utrophin can compensate for the absence of dystrophin and prevent the disease. She founded a spin-out company to take this work into clinical trials in DMD patients. 

Dame Kay sits on a number of national and international boards and advisory panels, and is presently Associate Head of Development, Impact and Equality in the Medical Sciences Division. In 1998, she became a founding fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003. In 1998, Professor Davies became the first woman to be appointed Dr Lee’s Professor of Anatomy at the University of Kay Davies using a pipette in her lab© National Portrait GalleryOxford. In 1999, she set up the MRC Functional Genomics Unit aimed at exploiting genome information for the analysis of the function of genes in the nervous system. In 2000, she co-founded the Oxford Centre of Gene Function with Professors Ashcroft (Physiology) and Donnelly (Statistics) to bring together genetics, physiology and bioinformatics in a new multidisciplinary building which was completed in 2003. She served as a Governor of the Wellcome Trust from 2008 to 2018 and served as Deputy chairman from 2013. Professor Davies was also the first, and so far only, woman to become Head of Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics from 2008 to 2011. 

Professor Davies' work has been recognised by numerous awards and prizes. In 2014, she was the recipient of the Women in to Science and Engineering (WISE) Lifetime Achievement Award, the British Neuroscience Association award for Outstanding Contribution to British Neuroscience, and was named one of Britain’s top ten ‘Explorer Scientists’ in a list of Britain’s top 100 scientists compiled by the Science Council. In 2015, The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) honoured her with the William Allan Award. In 2018, she was awarded the Croonian Lecture by The Royal Society. In 2019, she was awarded the Biochemical Society's 2020 Centenary Award. 

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