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The Nuffield Department of Women's and Reproductive Health was established 85 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 Prof 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.


Anne Anderson (1937 - 1983) was a reproductive physiologist, researcher, lecturer and major contributor to evidence-based health care

anne anderson

Anderson joined the University of Oxford in 1973 and became University Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Reproductive Physiology in the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. She led research into the birth process in sheep and also took on studies of the causes and management of preterm labour, gynaecological endocrinology, and infertility.

In the last decade of her life, she focused more about womens health generally, including doing clinical trials and working with people focusing in on what would become evidence-based medicine. She co-edited the first edition of Womens problems in general practice (1983) and contributed to Effectiveness and satisfaction in antenatal care (1982). There were plans to co-edit a companion volume on elective birth. However, her premature death from breast cancer, aged 46 in 1983 ended her involvement. Iain Chalmers, Murray Enkin, and Marc Keirse went on to publish Effective care in pregnancy and childbirth (ECPC) in 1989, dedicating the book in part to Anne. ECPC, through its systematic approach to assessing the research literature, is widely acknowledged to have led to development of a similar project for all of medicine and health Cochrane, whose mission is to promote evidence-informed health decision-making by producing high-quality, relevant, accessible systematic reviews and other synthesized research evidence.



NSAIDs for heavy bleeding and painful periods

A major paper "Reduction of menstrual blood loss by prostaglandin-synthetase inhibitors" is published in the Lancet. (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

A breakthrough paper: "Severe limb abnormalities after chorion villus sampling at 56-66 days gestation." is published in The Lancet. Firth H, Boyd P, Chamberlain P, MacKenzie IZ, Lindenbaum R & Huson S.



Fetal cells in maternal blood

A hugely significant  paper: "Prenatal sex determination by DNA amplification from maternal peripheral blood" is published in The Lancet. 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 Profs 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 & GYNAE 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. 


Laparoscopy is a type of surgical procedure that allows a surgeon to access the inside of the abdomen (tummy) and pelvis without having to make large incisions in the skin. This procedure is also known as keyhole surgery or minimally invasive surgery.

Endometriosis CaRe Oxford

Profs 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 Profs 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. 

The affiliation between The George Institute UK and The Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health ended in August 2020. 


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.


INGR1D is a large screening study in the Thames Valley to identify infants who are at risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The test is available as part of a research study being carried out by staff of the NHS and the University of Oxford.© GPPAD


The department's OSPREA &Gynae ream launch a large screening study in the Thames Valley to identify infants who are at risk of developing type 1 diabetes.


Rhino Project Logo


Prof Suzannah Williams and her research team begin work to find a new way of saving the Northern White Rhino by using tissue taken from animal ovaries to produce potentially large numbers of eggs in a laboratory setting.


Krina Zondervan


Prof Krina Zondervan is announced as the new Head of the Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health from 1st March 2020.  She will be supported by Dr Ingrid Granne, the new Deputy Head of Department and Dr Karl Morten, the new Director of Graduate Studies. Krina replaces Prof Stephen Kennedy after 15 years. She is a Professor of Reproductive & Genomic Epidemiology and Co-Director of the Endometriosis Care Centre.


We are proud to play our part in the RECOVERY study – A national clinical trial to identify treatments for adults hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19. Dr Manu Vatish is leading the pregnancy arm of this study, together with our research midwives; Angelika Capp, Ginny Mounce, Jude Mossop, Lotoyah Carty, Lisa Buck and our research assistant Kate Dixon.

COVID-19 Therapy Trial

The department’s OSPREA & Gynae team contribute to the RECOVERY study – A national clinical trial to identify treatments for adults hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19. Prof Manu Vatish is leading the pregnancy arm of this study, together with our research midwives; Angelika Capp, Ginny Mounce, Jude Mossop, Lotoyah Carty, Lisa Buck and our research assistant Kate Dixon.


Pfizer Clinical Trial

The Pfizer Maternal C-19 Vaccine Trial 

Our OSPREA team of research midwives and nurses deliver the Pfizer Maternal C-19 Vaccine Trial for women between 27-34 weeks pregnant. This critical trial will evaluate the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the Pfizer vaccine in pregnant women.


Congratulations to our OSPREA-Gynae team as the first UK participant in the HPV0001 trial received the first dose of their vaccine on 5th July 2021. HPV001 is investigating the broadest therapeutic vaccine to show efficacy against cervical abnormalities associated with 5 high-risk HPV types and is a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 15 trial sites across the UK and Europe, with Oxford as the lead trial site.

First woman in UK receives dose of therapeutic HPV vaccine

High-risk HPV infection is one of the major causes of infection-related cancer worldwide. It is estimated over 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 300,000 deaths are attributable to HPV infection each year. “The enrolment of the first patient marks a huge milestone and is a crucial step in the fight against cervical cancer,” added Prof Karin Hellner, principal investigator of the study. “Vaccitech’s broad spectrum HPV immunotherapy VTP-200 has the potential to change the lives of millions of women suffering from HPV associated disease worldwide.”


New guidelines launched for diagnosis and management of Endometriosis

New guidelines launched for diagnosis and management of Endometriosis

The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) published its new clinical guidelines for the diagnosis, treatment and management of Endometriosis - a chronic condition that causes severe pelvic pain and reduced fertility for millions of women worldwide. Prof Christian Becker from the Oxforfd Endometriosis CaRe Centre, and Dr Nathalie Vermeulen, Senior Research Senior Research Specialist at ESHRE, led the search strategy, worked closely together with international medical and epidemiological experts in the field as well as patient representatives..


A study of more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries worldwide has revealed that COVID-19 is associated with a higher risk of severe maternal and newborn complications than previously recognised.

Global INTERCOVID-2022 Study launched to compare Covid-19 during pregnancy, with pregnant women without the infection.

The Oxford Maternal & Perinatal Health Institute (OMPHI) launched the 2022 round of the global study to evaluate the effects of Covid-19 variants and vaccination in pregnancy.



pain in women

The dept joins the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP) a multi-million pound research programme of UK-based network of scientists, clinicians and patients working together to try and deliver new breakthroughs in understanding human pain.  Prof Katy Vincent is leading a project focusing on pain in women, who are more likely to develop almost all types of chronic pain than men are. Her research aims to understand whether period pain during adolescence increases the risk of developing chronic pain as a young woman, and to identify the mechanisms that underlie this risk from childhood through to adulthood.