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The Nuffield Department of Women's and Reproductive Health was established over 80 years ago, in 1937.

Here we look back on our key achievements innovating, teaching, pioneering and evolving women's health.




Department established

John Chassar Moir was appointed as the first Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. He had previously isolated ergometrine, which was described as one of the most important discoveries in the field of obstetrics in the 20th century as the drug has “saved countless lives from obstetric haemorrhage”. Under his direction, pioneering studies on the clinical application of prostaglandins were carried out, e.g. for induction of labour. He also developed novel surgical techniques for the repair of vesico-vaginal fistula.



Obstetric flying squad

Sir John Stallworthy set up an obstetric 'flying squad' to reduce maternal mortality, following the death of a mother from post-partum haemorrhage on the 20 mile journey from home to hospital in Oxford. The service was so successful it had to double, then treble in size, and was a very important factor in making the maternal mortality rate in the Oxford region the lowest in the UK. In 1967, he was appointed Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and held the post until he retired in 1973. He was knighted for services to medicine in 1972.



Uterine contraction monitoring

Mostyn Embrey introduced the first external multichannel tocograph, which would become the basis for monitoring uterine contractions in labour in routine obstetric practice. “The recording of uterine contractility by an apparatus applied to the maternal abdomen is of course indirect and cannot quantitatively measure uterine pressure but it has the advantage that there is no trespass of the genital canal and so avoids the inherent objection of internal recording.”



Silver Star Unit

The Silver Star Unit was created by Chris Redman as a centre of research excellence and tertiary care for high-risk pregnancies and for women with serious medical conditions, in particular Pre-eclampsia. It was the first Obstetric Medicine Unit in the UK with dedicated obstetric and midwifery staff, who have cared for over 15,000 mothers and their babies in the last 37 years. In 1992, Chris Redman was awarded the first Chair in Obstetric Medicine in the world.



Sir Alec Turnbull

Sir Alec Turnbull was appointed Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. His influence on clinical practice and research in Oxford was immense. The department developed an international reputation under his direction for research into serum screening for spina bifida, ultrasound assessment of fetal well-being, preterm labour, fetoscopy for fetal blood sampling, antiprogestins, IVF-ET, dysfunctional uterine bleeding and its medical management, and endometrial ablation. He was knighted for services to medicine in 1988.



NSAIDs for heavy bleeding and painful periods

Reduction of menstrual blood loss by prostaglandin-synthetase inhibitors (1976) Anderson A, Haynes P, Guillebaud J & Turnbull AC Trial of prostaglandin-synthetase inhibitors in primary dysmenorrhoea (1978) Anderson A, Haynes P, Fraser I & Turnbull AC.



Dawes-Redman CTG

Geoffrey Dawes and Chris Redman initiated a pioneering programme to computerise the recognition of diagnostic features of electronic fetal heart rate traces before labour. A commercial instrument was developed and marketed by Oxford Medical in 1990 and is now sold worldwide by Huntleigh Medical.The Dawes-Redman CTG Analysis System represents one of the University’s most successful and long-standing clinical  advances, and is widely recognised as the reference standard for the assessment of fetal health during pregnancy.



Oxford IVF Unit opened

David Barlow established an IVF unit and research laboratory in the Women’s Centre with the specific aim of better understanding the fundamental mechanisms involved in human reproduction, including gamete biology, implantation and early embryogenesis. Some of the clinical milestones in the Unit’s history were the first live birth (1985), first ICSI baby (1996), first frozen embryo baby (1997) and 2000th baby (2000). In 1990, David Barlow was appointed Nuffield Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.



Limb abnormalities after early CVS

Severe limb abnormalities after chorion villus sampling at 56-66 days’ gestation Firth H, Boyd P, Chamberlain P, MacKenzie IZ, Lindenbaum R & Huson S.



Fetal cells in maternal blood

Prenatal sex determination by DNA amplification from maternal peripheral blood Lo D, Wainscoat JS, Gillmer M, Paetl P, Sampietro M & Fleming. 



Landmark review of causes of pre-eclampsia

Chris Redman and Ian Sargent.



CTA programme initiated

The Clinical Teaching Associates (CTAs) are lay women who teach medical students how to carry out pelvic examinations. Using their own bodies, the CTAs teach best practice to the medical students giving priority to the woman's needs and comfort first. In 2008, they were awarded the Medical Sciences Division’s Major Educator Award. Since 2015, CTAs are also involved in assessing the performance of the medical students of their clinical exams, ensuring that women are involved in both teaching and assessment.


MSc in clinical embryology cover

MSc in Clinical Embryology

A one-year, taught MSc was launched, which aims to provide graduates from either a scientific or clinical background with advanced theoretical and practical understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and assisted reproductive technology. Many graduates go on to study for higher research degrees and pursue academic or research careers. Others have secured positions as embryologists or work for global fertility companies.


Intergrowth timeline


INTERGROWTH-21st, led by José Villar and Stephen Kennedy, is a network of more than 300 doctors and scientists from 27 institutions in 18 countries worldwide, involving 60,000 mothers and infants. The main finding is that the babies of healthy women grow similarly in utero and achieve a similar size at birth irrespective of their race/ethnicity. The project has produced international standards, describing optimal growth and development across the first 1,000 days of life, that were published in a series of Lancet papers. The standards were adopted by WHO and CDC in 2016 in the context of the Zika epidemic. 


OSPREA timeline

OSPREA established

The Oxford Safer Pregnancy Alliance (OSPREA) was established, with funding from the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, as a collaboration between the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the department. Its mission is to encourage all pregnant women attending the hospital to contribute to research, training, audit and service development. The OSPREA Research Centre, on Level 4, is a purpose-built facility, alongside the Ultrasound Unit, for carrying out observational and interventional studies.


Endo timeline

Endometriosis CaRe Oxford

Krina Zondervan and Christian Becker launched Endometriosis CaRe Oxford - a nationally and internationally acclaimed Centre of Expertise in clinical Care and Research into Endometriosis. The Centre, a collaboration between the department and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, integrates the highest standard of clinical care with cutting-edge research to improve understanding of the underlying causes of endometriosis, discover novel diagnostic approaches and identify innovative, more focused therapies for this heterogeneous condition.


TGI timeline

The George institute Uk

The mission of The George Institute for Global Health, led jointly by Robyn Norton and Stephen MacMahon, is to increase access to quality health care for millions of people worldwide - with a particular focus on vulnerable women in resource-poor settings. In 2015, The George Institute UK, led by Terence Dwyer, joined the department with the primary aim of developing an integrated research programme in maternal health and non-communicable diseases.


Athena swan

athena swan silver

The Athena SWAN Charter is a scheme to recognise excellence in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics (STEMM). The Charter’s core principles are centred on the belief that women are underrepresented in STEMM, especially at higher levels, yet scientific research cannot achieve its full potential without the involvement of the whole science community.


Ovarian cancer timeline

ovarian cancer discovery

Salt-Inducible Kinase 2 couples ovarian cancer cell metabolism with survival at the adipocyte-rich metastatic niche.

Ahmed Ahmed lab. 


Human embryo timeline

human embryo research

Towards clinical application of pronuclear transfer to prevent mitochondrial DNA disease (2016) Genome editing reveals a role for OCT4 in human embryogenesis (2017).

Dagan Wells lab.