Untold lives blog

16 March 2016

Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007) was a developmental biologist who pioneered techniques that led to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

McLaren studied Zoology at Oxford and received a DPhil in 1952. In the same year she moved to UCL and began research with her husband Donald Michie into the skeletal development of mice. In 1955 she and Michie moved to the Royal Veterinary College and it was in 1958, while working with John Biggers, that McLaren produced the first litter of mice grown from embryos that had been developed outside the uterus and then transferred to a surrogate mother. This work paved the way for the development of IVF technologies and the birth of the first IVF baby Louise Brown some 20 years later.


Detail from McLaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1955-1959 recording her experiments concerning embryo transplants in mice. (Add MS 83844). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.


Detail from Mclaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1968-1976. (Add MS 83854). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

In later years Anne’s career took her from Edinburgh to Cambridge via UCL where she continued her work into fertility and reproduction. As well as undertaking research she was a keen advocate of scientists explaining their work to the population at large and being involved in the formation of public policy. McLaren was a member of the Warnock committee whose advice led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 as well as the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulated in vitro fertilization and the use of human embryos, on which she served for over 10 years.


Selection of lectures dating from 1977-78 including a ‘Lecture to girl’s school near York’ (Add MS 83835). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

The Anne McLaren papers at the British Library consist of letters, notes, notebooks and offprints. There is currently one tranche (Add MS 83830-83981) available to readers through the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue with a second tranche planned for release later in 2016. Additionally one of Anne McLaren’s notebooks containing material from 1953 to 1956 (Add MS 83843) is on long-term display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery.

Anne McLaren’s scientific publications and books, along with an oral history interview conducted in February 2007, are available to readers via the British Library Explore catalogue.

This post forms part of a series on our Science and Untold Lives blogs highlighting some of the British Library’s science collections as part of British Science Week 2016.

Jonathan Pledge, Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, Public and Political Life. 


Earlier this evening I attended a meeting of the Anne McLaren Trust Fund, and the other members - all senior scientists - commented that this British Library archive of Anne's work is one of their most visited and used, partly because her notebooks were such a model of how such things should be done.

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