Nancy Rothwell

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Dame Nancy Rothwell
Nancy Rothwell P1030027 (23707820741) (cropped).jpg
Rothwell in academic dress for a graduation ceremony for the School of Mathematics at the University of Manchester in 2015
President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester
Assumed office
21 June 2010
Preceded byAlan Gilbert
Personal details
Nancy Jane Rothwell

(1955-10-02) 2 October 1955 (age 67)[1]
Tarleton, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
EducationPenwortham Girls' Grammar School
Alma materUniversity of London (BSc, PhD, DSc)[1]
Salary£253,000 (2019–20)[2]
Awards Edit this at Wikidata
Known forPresident and Vice Chancellor of the University of Manchester
Scientific career
ThesisPhysiological mechanisms involved in the regulation of energy balance (1979)
Doctoral advisorMike J. Stock[3][6]
InfluencesBridget Ogilvie[7]
Ian MacDonald[6][8]
Derek Miller[6]

Dame Nancy Jane Rothwell DBE DL FRS FMedSci FRSB FBPhS MAE[1][10] (born 2 October 1955[11]) is a British physiologist.[12] She has served as president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester since July 2010,[13] having served as Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor until January 2010.

Rothwell served as non-executive director of pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca from 2006 to 2015,[14] co-chair of the Council for Science and Technology and past President of the Royal Society of Biology.[15][16][17]

She is a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester[18][19] and since September 2020 has been chair of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the leading universities in the UK.[20] In March 2021, students at the University of Manchester passed a vote of no confidence in Rothwell due to her response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Rothwell was born in Tarleton, a village near Preston, Lancashire. She was educated at Penwortham Girls' Grammar School and then went to college where she took A-levels in maths, physics, chemistry and art, having dropped biology aged 14.[12][6] She enrolled at the University of London and obtained a first-class degree in physiology (1976) and a Doctor of Philosophy degree (1979) from Queen Elizabeth College, now part of King's College, London.[21] Rothwell was later awarded a Doctor of Science degree in 1987 by King's College London and an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Bath in 2009.[22][23]

Career and research[edit]

Rothwell's early research[3][24][25] identified mechanisms of energy balance regulation, obesity and cachexia.[26] In 1984 she was awarded a Royal Society Research Fellowship and relocated to Manchester in 1987 and numerous grants by the BBSRC.[27] She was appointed to a chair in physiology in 1994, then a Medical Research Council research chair in 1998. Her current research focusses on the role of inflammation in brain disease and has identified the role of the cytokine interleukin-1 (IL-1)[28] in diverse forms of brain injury.[29][30] Her studies have begun to elucidate the mechanisms regulating IL-1 release and its action and her group have conducted the first early clinical trial of an IL-1 inhibitor in strokes. She served as president of the British Neuroscience Association and a council member of Medical Research Council (MRC).[when?]

From October 2004, Rothwell served as vice-president for research of the university.[31][32] In 2010 she was overseeing a research group of about 20 scientists, with significant external funding and was announced to succeed Alan Gilbert as president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester on 1 July 2010. She is a trustee of Cancer Research UK, the Campaign for Medical Progress, a council member of BBSRC, chair of the Research Defence Society and the Wellcome Trust's Public Engagement Strategy Committee and a non-executive director of AstraZeneca. In 1998 she delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture on The Secrets of Life, televised by the BBC.[33]

President and vice-chancellor[edit]

In January 2010, Rothwell was appointed deputy president and deputy vice-chancellor. Until Alan Gilbert retired she was acting president due to his sick leave. On 21 June 2010, she was appointed president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester. She assumed her post on 1 July 2010, succeeding Gilbert, who had retired after nearly six years. She became the first woman to lead the University of Manchester or either of its two predecessor institutions. Commenting on her appointment, she said: "I am honoured and delighted to be invited to lead the University at this exciting time. I am determined to maintain the strategic focus that we have developed over the past six years and to work closely with colleagues to identify new priorities and opportunities for the University in the very challenging external environment that we will face over the next few years."[citation needed]

The chairman of the appointment panel and chairman-elect of the university's board of governors, Anil Ruia, said: "Dame Nancy will bring her own distinctive strengths, perspective and style to the role of President and Vice-Chancellor which will enable the University to build upon the remarkable progress that we have made under Professor Alan Gilbert's leadership."[citation needed] In 2009, Rothwell became the first president of the Society of Biology, now the Royal Society of Biology.

In May 2020, Rothwell was appointed as the chair of the Russell Group, starting September 2020.[20] The group represents 24 of the leading universities in the UK.

Response to COVID-19[edit]

In April 2020, Rothwell wrote to University of Manchester staff warning that the loss of revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would result in pay cuts and possible job losses.[34][35] In September 2020 she warned that students who failed to follow social distancing rules could be excluded from the university campus.[36]

In the autumn 2020 semester the university's handling of the pandemic and the second national lockdown led to criticism and protests.[37][38] In September 2020, university officials said they had taken precautions including staggered arrivals, social distancing and a reduced lecture timetable, though university staff alleged they were being pressured into conducting face-to-face teaching.[37] In October 2020 the Fallowfield area, home to the university's Fallowfield Campus, saw more COVID-19 cases than any other part of the UK.[37] Rothwell launched an investigation after fences were erected around campus residences in November 2020 and apologised for the university's "very poor communication" with students.[39][40] Days later students began a rent strike and occupied a campus building and demanded Rothwell meet with them to discuss a proposed rent discount.[41][42] Later in November Rothwell acknowledged the university had made "mistakes" in its approach to the pandemic and said that, while many students supported the measures, others felt "let down".[37] The inquiry issued a report in December 2020, which identified failures of project management on the university's part and a failure to engage with students; Rothwell accepted the inquiry's findings and pledged to implement its recommendations.[43]

Also in November 2020, anti-racist campaigners called on Rothwell to resign following an incident in which a black student was detained and allegedly racially profiled by university security guards.[38] A Universities and Colleges Union official said Rothwell should "offer a full apology" to the student "and stop trying to police the university's student population".[37] In an interview on Newsnight, Rothwell said that she had contacted the student to apologise.[44][45] At the time of the interview she had not, in fact, contacted the student, and she later apologised for claiming she had done so.[46][47]

In February 2021, the University of Manchester Students' Union called a vote of no confidence in Rothwell, the first time in the university's history such a motion has been triggered.[48][49][50] The students obtained the requisite 400 signatures to launch the referendum in hours.[49] The campaign also called for the vice-chancellor to be elected by staff and students.[49] In March 2021 the vote of no confidence was passed with the support of 89 percent of voters. The vote, however, was non-binding and a spokesperson for the university said it had "full confidence" in Rothwell.[51][52]

Awards and honours[edit]

In February 2013, Rothwell was assessed as the 15th most powerful woman in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.[53][54] In May 2013 she was the subject of BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific and was interviewed about her life and work by Jim Al-Khalili.[6] Rothwell was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2005 Birthday Honours,[55] Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2004,[56] Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB) and Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci).[when?][1] In 2003 she won the Royal Society Pfizer Award.[57][58] Her nomination for the Royal Society reads:[59]

Nancy Rothwell has made major discoveries in the areas of energy balance, host defence responses, and neurodegeneration, several of which are now being translated into clinical benefit. Early work emphasised the importance of thermogenesis in the regulation of energy balance and the aetiology of obesity, and the role of b2 adrenoreceptor activation in muscle hypertrophy. More recently she has carried out pioneering studies of the role of cytokines and other components of the immune system within the central nervous system. She demonstrated the key role of specific cytokines and the hormone leptin in the integration and regulation by the brain of host defence responses to infection and injury. This led to important discoveries concerning the role of cytokines in neurodegeneration. She was the first to show that the cytokine IL-1 mediates ischaemic brain damage, challenging the view that immune or inflammatory processes are unimportant in the brain. She patented the use of IL-1 inhibitors to prevent acute neurodegeneration and is leading the first clinical trial of such an inhibitor in stroke. Her demonstration that caspases are involved directly in ischaemic brain damage in vivo stimulated the development of caspase inhibitors for possible clinical application. Nancy Rothwell has also worked energetically to advance physiology and neuroscience, to further public awareness of science, and to encourage women to pursue careers in science.

She is an honorary member of the British Society for Immunology[60] and honorary fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.[61] She has been a member of The Physiological Society since 1982 and was awarded the Physiological Society Annual Review Prize Lecture in 1998.


  1. ^ a b c d Anon (2003). "Rothwell, Dame Nancy (Jane)". Who's Who. (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U43057. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Barradale, Greg (7 March 2021). "We found out if your uni's Vice Chancellor got a pay rise during the pandemic". The Tab. Retrieved 15 August 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Rothwell, N.; Stock, M. (1979). "A role for brown adipose tissue in diet-induced thermogenesis". Nature. 281 (5726): 31–35. Bibcode:1979Natur.281...31R. doi:10.1038/281031a0. PMID 551265. S2CID 40654423.
  4. ^ Selvarajah, J.; Scott, M.; Stivaros, S.; Hulme, S.; Georgiou, R.; Rothwell, N.; Tyrrell, P.; Jackson, A. (2008). "Potential surrogate markers of cerebral microvascular angiopathy in asymptomatic subjects at risk of stroke". European Radiology. 19 (4): 1011–1018. doi:10.1007/s00330-008-1202-8. PMID 18987865. S2CID 417275.
  5. ^ Selvarajah, J. R.; Smith, C. J.; Hulme, S.; Georgiou, R.; Sherrington, C.; Staniland, J.; Illingworth, K. J.; Jury, F.; Payton, A.; Ollier, W. E.; Vail, A.; Rothwell, N. J.; Hopkins, S. J.; Tyrrell, P. J. (2011). "Does inflammation predispose to recurrent vascular events after recent transient ischaemic attack and minor stroke? The North West of England transient ischaemic attack and minor stroke (NORTHSTAR) study". International Journal of Stroke. 6 (3): 187–194. doi:10.1111/j.1747-4949.2010.00561.x. PMID 21557802. S2CID 25940748.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "The Life Scientific; Nancy Rothwell". Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  7. ^ McCann, Kate (23 April 2013). "Dame Nancy Rothwell: 'Break the rules and see what happens'". The Guardian.
  8. ^ MacDonald, I. A.; Rothwell, N. J.; Stock, M. J. (1976). "Lipolytic and lipogenic activities of adipose tissue during spontaneous fat depletion and repletion proceedings". The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 35 (3): 129A–130A. PMID 1028061.
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  11. ^ Who's Who in Greater Manchester; golden jubilee edition. Manchester: Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, 2002; p. 313
  12. ^ a b Susan Wray; Tilli Tansey, eds. (2015). "Women Physiologists: Centenary celebrations and beyond" (PDF). London: The Physiological Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 October 2020. Bury failure and celebrate success
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  14. ^ "ASTRAZENECA PLC – Officers (Free information from Companies House)".
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  17. ^ "Society of Biology welcomes new President". Archived from the original on 31 May 2014.
  18. ^ "Greater Manchester Lieutenancy – Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell DL PhD DSc".
  19. ^ Nancy Rothwell Official website Edit this at Wikidata
  20. ^ a b Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell appointed Russell Group Chair, Russell Group, 15 May 2020, archived from the original on 15 June 2020, retrieved 15 June 2020
  21. ^ Rothwell, Nancy Jane (1979). Physiological mechanisms involved in the regulation of energy balance. (PhD thesis). King's College London. OCLC 827269727. EThOS
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  23. ^ "Honorary graduates, 2000 to 2009". University of Bath. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  24. ^ Hopkins, S.; Rothwell, N. (1995). "Cytokines and the nervous system. I: Expression and recognition". Trends in Neurosciences. 18 (2): 83–88. doi:10.1016/0166-2236(95)93881-W. PMID 7537419.
  25. ^ Rothwell, N.; Hopkins, S. (1995). "Cytokines and the nervous system II: Actions and mechanisms of action". Trends in Neurosciences. 18 (3): 130–136. doi:10.1016/0166-2236(95)93890-A. PMID 7754524. S2CID 38001194.
  26. ^ Roe, S. Y.; Cooper, A. L.; Morris, I. D.; Rothwell, N. J. (1997). "Involvement of prostaglandins in cachexia induced by T-cell leukemia in the rat". Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental. 46 (4): 359–365. doi:10.1016/S0026-0495(97)90047-0. PMID 9109835.
  27. ^ "Grants awarded to Nancy Rothwell by the BBSRC".
  28. ^ Relton, J. K.; Rothwell, N. J. (1992). "Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist inhibits ischaemic and excitotoxic neuronal damage in the rat". Brain Research Bulletin. 29 (2): 243–246. doi:10.1016/0361-9230(92)90033-T. PMID 1388088. S2CID 39761279.
  29. ^ Allan, S. M.; Rothwell, N. J. (2001). "Cytokines and acute neurodegeneration". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2 (10): 734–744. doi:10.1038/35094583. PMID 11584311. S2CID 205020888.
  30. ^ Denes, A.; Wilkinson, F.; Bigger, B.; Chu, M.; Rothwell, N. J.; Allan, S. M. (2013). "Central and haematopoietic interleukin-1 both contribute to ischaemic brain injury in mice". Disease Models & Mechanisms. 6 (4): 1043–1048. doi:10.1242/dmm.011601. PMC 3701223. PMID 23519030.
  31. ^ Rothwell, Nancy (2002). Who wants to be a scientist?: choosing science as a career. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-52092-4.
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  39. ^ Halle-Richards, Sophie (7 November 2020). "University of Manchester President launches inquiry to determine why 'lockdown' fences were erected on campus". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  40. ^ "Coronavirus: Manchester students pull down COVID security fences in protest". Sky News. 6 November 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  41. ^ Robson, Steve (12 November 2020). "Students 'occupy' University of Manchester building in protest over rent". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
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  44. ^ "Manchester Uni vice-chancellor apologises over 'racial profiling' incident". BBC. 19 November 2020. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  45. ^ Abbit, Beth (20 November 2020). "University of Manchester boss apologises after student claims he was 'racially profiled' by security guards". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  46. ^ Walker, Amy (22 November 2020). "Manchester University chief apologises for false claim over 'racial profiling' incident". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
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  52. ^ "University of Manchester students pass vote of no confidence in boss". BBC. 12 March 2021. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  53. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Woman's Hour – The Power List 2013".
  54. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – Woman's Hour, Woman's Hour Power List – Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell".
  55. ^ Anon (2005). "Queen's Birthday Honours 2005 recipient lists". BBC.
  56. ^ Anon (2004). "Dame Nancy Rothwell DBE DL FMedSci FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 11 October 2016. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the website where:

    "All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” --"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)

  57. ^ "Royal Society Africa Prize – Royal Society".
  58. ^ "Nancy Rothwell: Her own boss | Education | The Guardian: The head of research at the UK's biggest university tells Donald MacLeod she is unfazed by the task ahead, 2006-03-28". London. 28 March 2006. Archived from the original on 7 March 2014.
  59. ^ "Nancy Jane Rothwell: Certificate of election EC/2004/38". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014.
  60. ^ "Honorary members – British Society for Immunology".
  61. ^ "Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell – Somerville College Oxford".

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Media related to Nancy Rothwell at Wikimedia Commons

Academic offices
Preceded by Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Manchester
Preceded by
President of the Royal Society of Biology
Succeeded by