Anne McLaren

Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Women in STEM
Anne McLaren

Birth: April 26, 1927

Death: July 7, 2007

Specialty: Developmental Biology

Major Contributions:

Her work helped lead to human IVF

Co-Founder of Frozen Ark

Part of committee that produced the Warnock Report

Image: Fiona Hanson / Alamy Stock Photo

Dr. Anne McLaren spent her career surrounded by mice as she focused on understanding mammalian embryonic development in a number of varying situations.

After earning her doctorate in 1952 she began working alongside her husband at University College in London where the pair studied spinal development of mice as it related to genetic differences between the embryo and the carrier womb. Upon moving to the Royal Veterinary College in 1955 she found that she needed to be able to study generations of mice more quickly that what naturally occurred, so she employed and improved a technique, superovulation, as well as developing a more efficient way to transfer embryos between mice.  Working with a colleague she produced the first litter of mice grown from embryos developed outside the uterus and transferred into a surrogate mother – paving the way for the development of In Vitro Fertilization including the first human born by IVF twenty years later.

Moving to Edinburgh and the Institute of Animal Genetics, she researched fertility; skeletal characteristics of chimeras, organisms consisting of two or more genetically different kinds of tissues; the development of mouse embryonic transfer; and immunocontraception.

As an expert in reproductive technologies, she was invited to be a member of the Warnock committee where her guidance and explanations of the science made the committee’s report much stronger. This led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 and the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which McLaren served on for over ten years.

After her retirement, she became a principal research associate at the Wellcome Trust/ Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute where she continued her work in fertility and reproduction until her death in 2007. This work included helping to found Frozen Ark – a project whose aim is “saving the DNA and viable cells of the world’s endangered species.”

Dr. McLaren published over 300 papers and during her career was the first female officer of the Royal Society.  She was a recipient of the Royal Medal in 1990, the Japan Prize in 2002 and in 2007 the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. In 2021 Google honored her legacy with a doodle on her 94th birthday.

Written by Angela Goad


Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

Wikipedia: Anne McLaren

The Guardian Obituaries: Dame Anne McLaren

The Embryo Project Encyclopedia: Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World by Rachel Swaby

Google Doodle: Anne McLaren

See Also:

The Anne McLaren Papers

Wellcome Trust

Frozen Ark