Alumni engagement and philanthropy


24 April 2020

Professor Dame Ingrid Victoria Allen, a distinguished medical graduate, Honorary Graduate, Professor Emerita and Honorary Professor of Neuropathology at Queen’s University Belfast, passed away aged 87 on 21 April 2020.

Born in Belfast on 30 July 1932 to the Reverend Robert and Doris Allen, Ingrid attended Ashleigh House School and later Cheltenham Ladies College before coming to Queen’s to study medicine.

On what would be the start of a long association with Queen’s, she was awarded an MB BCh BAO medical degree in 1957, and completed a higher research degree, graduating with MD Honours in 1963.

She enjoyed a distinguished career in medicine with an international reputation for her research in infectious and inflammatory conditions of the nervous system.

She held the post of Professor of Neuropathology at the University from 1979-1997 before becoming the inaugural Director of Research and Development in Northern Ireland from 1997-2002.

Dame Ingrid also worked as a Consultant Neuropathologist and was the first Director of the Northern Ireland Regional Neuropathology Service based in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Following her retirement, as Professor Emerita and Honorary Professor of Neuropathology, she continued to make significant contributions to research at her alma mater.

Dame Ingrid was the author of more than 200 publications and her work in medical research contributed seminal advances in neuropathology, particularly in the fields of multiple sclerosis and neurovirology, an interdisciplinary field which brings together  clinical neuroscience, virology, immunology, and molecular biology.

Most notably, Professor Allen demonstrated subtle changes in what is now referred to as ‘normal-appearing white matter’ in the central nervous system of patients with multiple sclerosis, identifying that seemingly healthy tissue also shows pathological changes in this disease. She also discovered that the measles virus is the cause of subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a progressive neurological disorder of children and young adults that affects the central nervous system.

Her contributions greatly advanced the field of MS research and, without doubt, the understanding she brought to this disease has supported the development of the life-changing, disease-modifying therapies in use around the world today.

In 1995, while Professor Allen was at Queen’s, she established the Multiple Sclerosis Journal of which she was the founding editor.

Dame Ingrid was a member of many national and international medical and professional associations. She sat on the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and chaired the MRC Neurosciences Board from 1989-1993 and was a member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Joint Medical Advisory Committee.

Vice-President of the International Society of Neuropathology from 1988-1992, she was president of the British Neuropathological Society from 1993-1995 and later President of the Irish Neurological Association.

She served as the Chair of the Medical Advisory Panel of the Parkinson's Disease Society and was a member of the board of the Association of Medical Research Charities, London.

She was also a former member of the Industrial Research and Technology Unit (IRTU) Board and of the European Committee on MS Research of the MS Society,  

A former Deputy Lieutenant of Belfast, Dame Ingrid was the author of over 200 publications and winner of numerous awards. During a distinguished career she delivered many invited lectures throughout the world and held visiting professorships in India, Singapore, Chicago, Maryland, Malaysia and Bosnia and, closer to home, at the University of Ulster.

She was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1993 and was one of the founding Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998. From 1997 to 2001 she was the Director of Research and Development for Health and Personal Social Services Northern Ireland.

She received a CBE in 1993 and became a Dame (DBE) in the 2001 Birthday Honours, both for medical research, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Medical Science by Queen's in 2003. She was further honoured by the University in November 2008 with the unveiling of a portrait by Tom Hallifax which hangs in the University’s Great Hall.

At the unveiling in the Canada Room, Dame Ingrid remarked: "I consider it a great honour to have my portrait in Queen's. It is also very humbling and I would like to pay tribute to all who have worked with me and helped me throughout my career."

More recently, the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, inaugurated the Professor Dame Ingrid Allen Lecture, (the School's annual Gender Equality Lecture), named in recognition of Dame Ingrid’s contribution to medical research and her profile as a role model to early career researchers. 

An active member of the church, she was an elder in McCracken Memorial Presbyterian Church and convener of the Outreach Committee there. She was a member of Christians in Science, the Society of Ordained Scientists and the Thomas Merton Society.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Rev Barry McCroskery, Minister of McCracken Memorial described Dame Ingrid as a ‘most wonderful leader, friend and fellow disciple of Christ’, saying she was a ‘force of nature with amazing talent, endless energy, and youthful fun’ and someone who was ‘kind-hearted and had a generous spirit in all things.’

Married to the Very Rev. Dr John Thompson, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Queen’s (who died in May 2010), Dame Ingrid is survived by her sister Grace, nephews and nieces, and the wider family circle. She was predeceased by her sisters St Claire and Gwyneth.

A past member of, and regular attendee at Queen’s Graduates’ Association events and a loyal supporter of the University, Dame Ingrid will be sadly missed by the wider Queen’s community.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the Development and Alumni Relations Office is endeavouring to remain in contact with the University’s graduates and donors, and to promote online networking initiatives, to keep Queen’s alumni and supporters connected.

To submit graduate obituaries or news items, or for general enquiries about this story, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), Queen’s University Belfast.

Image: Professor Dame Ingrid Allen by Tom Hallifax; oil on canvas 108 x 94 cm; Queen's University Belfast Art Collection 

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