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Departmental Demonstrator 1957-59 and 1967-71, Nuffield Fluid Research Grant holder 1959-60, University Lecturer 1971-99, Professor of Human Anatomy 1997

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Professor Margaret Matthews joined the Department of Human Anatomy as a Departmental Demonstrator in 1957 to undertake teaching in the dissecting room and embryology and neuroanatomy classes, and research alongside senior colleagues in the Department. Her research explored the extent of shrinkage of nerve cells in the brain after deprivation of their normal inputs. She was one of only two female demonstrators in the Anatomy department at the time, the other being Dr Alice Carleton. Toward the end of her initial two-year appointment, her employment was terminated, the reason cited at the time was her status as a married woman who was soon expected to have children. Her senior colleagues, in response to her successful research work, secured her a grant from the Nuffield Foundation for a year’s continuation, which enabled her to complete the study. For the next six years, Professor Matthews juggled childcare commitments (there was no provision for part-time work or nursery care at the time) with writing-up, tutoring and reading up on new anatomical techniques. She was able to resume her Departmental Demonstratorship in 1967.

In 1971, Professor Matthews was appointed University Lecturer, only the third woman to be employed in this position in the Department of Human Anatomy, the first being Dr Alice Carleton, and the second Dr Pamela Mackinnon. With this position, her teaching responsibilities increased to provide classes in Histology and Neuroanatomy for physiology and psychology students. Also in 1971, she was elected to a Fellowship at Lady Margaret Hall, where she had been tutoring in anatomy since 1958. With the advent of electron microscopy in the 1960s, Professor Matthews shifted her focus to the autonomic system of nerve cells outside the brain, because these were capable of regenerating their axons (output fibres), unlike the nerve cells of the brain, enabling her to study their response to injury. She began looking at the neurones of sympathetic ganglia and their responses to the cutting of their axons. Her research opened up new fields of study leading to further investigations, illustrated in four key research papers: “The ultrastructure and somatic efferent synapses of small granule-containing cells in the superior cervical ganglion” (Journal of Anatomy, 105, 1989), “A light and electron microscopic study of the cellular response to axonal injury in the superior cervical ganglion of the rat” (Proceeding of The Royal Society B, 181, 1972), “Detachment of structurally intact nerve endings from chromatolytic neurones of rat superior cervcal ganglion during the depression of synaptic transmission induced by post-ganglionic axotomy” (Journal of Physiology, 245, 1975), and “Substance P-immunoreactive peripheral branches of sensory neurons innervate guinea-pig sympathetic neurons” (PNAS, 79, 1982). Professor Matthews says: “What I most enjoyed was making a really important and significant observation and recording it securely. Often one could not relax until the safety of the recording had been confirmed, because the material might perish; but the relief and pleasure were then all the more intense.”

In 1987, Professor Matthews was elected to Honorary Membership of the American Association of Anatomists in their centenary year, an honour accorded to a few persons annually. In 1997, she was conferred the title of Professor of Human Anatomy in the second year of Oxford’s Titular Professorships scheme. She retired in 1999.

 

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