Distinguished Oxford University figures have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

When just one Dame Frances is not enough

A number of Oxford scholars were recognised for their contributions to scholarship, the public understanding of science and higher education in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours, announced on Saturday 13 June.

Professor Frances Ashcroft, FRS, the Royal Society GlaxoSmithKline Research Professor in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics and Fellow of Trinity College is made a DBE for services to medical science and the public understanding of science. 

Her research focuses on ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channels and their role in insulin secretion, in both health and disease. She is interested in how KATP channel function relates to channel structure, how cell metabolism regulates channel activity, and how mutations in KATP channel genes cause human disease. The ultimate goal is to explain how a rise in the blood glucose concentration stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreatic beta-cells, what goes wrong with this process in type 2 diabetes, and how drugs used to treat this condition exert their beneficial effects.

Dame Frances identified the missing link connecting an increase in blood sugar levels to the secretion of the hormone insulin. She unravelled how genetic mutations in a particular protein cause a rare inherited condition, known as neonatal diabetes, in which patients develop diabetes soon after birth. This has enabled many people with neonatal diabetes to switch to a better form of medication. 

Dame Frances paid tribute to those she has worked with throughout her career, saying: ‘I have always said it is much better to collaborate than to compete and it has been a joy in my life to do that.’ She paid particular tribute to two of her collaborators, Professor Patrik Rorsman, Oxford University’s Professor of Diabetic Medicine, and Professor Andrew Hattersley, an Oxford alumnus who is Professor of Molecular Medicine at Exeter University.

Two former heads of house were also recognised. 

Frances Cairncross, FRSE, who was Rector of Exeter College from 2004 until she stepped down last year, is made a DBE for service to higher education and to economics. The daughter of Sir Alexander Cairncross, former Master of St Peter’s College, she read modern history at St Anne’s College, and took an MA in economics at Brown University, Rhode Island. She made her name in financial journalism, working for The Times, The Banker and The Observer and then as economic columnist for The Guardian for 13 years and a senior editor at The Economist for two decades. She has held numerous positions on national committees and councils, and she chaired the Economic and Social Research Council from 2001 to 2007. Her books include Costing the Earth: The Challenge for Governments, the Opportunities for Business (1991), The Death of Distance: How the Communications Revolution is Changing Our Lives (1997) and The Company of the Future (2002).

Professor Steve Nickell, FBA, who served as Warden of Nuffield College from 2006 to 2012, was knighted for services to economics.

Also honoured was Dr James Adams, FBA, Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, who is made a CBE for services to Latin scholarship. Dr Adams, whose research interests lie in the linguistic history of all varieties of Latin, literary and non-literary, from about 200 BC to the early medieval period, was Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College from 1998 to 2010. 

This article is largely reproduced from Oxford University’s News and Events page, with kind permission. Image © Oxford University Images / Oxford Photo Library.