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Professor Robin Murray FRS

21 May 2010

Robin Murray, Professor of Psychiatric Research at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP), King’s College London (KCL), has joined a long line of distinguished scientists to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

The Society is made up of over 1300 of the most eminent scientists, engineers and technologists from the UK, the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland. Each year, through a peer review process, 44 new Fellows are elected along with eight new Foreign Members, chosen for their outstanding scientific achievements.

The Royal Society provides the following citation in support of Prof Murray’s election:

Distinguished for his major original contribution to the paradigm shift from the view of schizophrenia as an adult-onset psychosis to the view that it is an early-onset neurodevelopmental disorder. Rigorous empirical studies have identified obstetric risk factors, the role of language delay and cognitive impairment in childhood, and the provoking role of early onset heavy cannabis use. His research group has shown that African-Caribbeans living in the UK (but not those living in the Caribbean) have a markedly increased rate of schizophrenia. They have also shown the brain imaging abnormalities associated with schizophrenia, identifying their implications.

Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean and Head of School IoP KCL, said: 'For those of us who have had the privilege of knowing and working with Prof Murray - we have always known of his scientific excellence, his dedication to his subject and his students. It gives us great pleasure, and honour by association, to have this record of excellence and achievement acknowledged by such a distinguished society. Robin, you are an inspiration to all of us and to your legion of students who now lead the field around the world.'

Professor Anthony David, who organised Professor Murray’s Festschrift ‘The Final Frontier’ in November 2009 provides this tribute:

Robin Murray is Professor of Psychiatric Research at The Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.  He joins a tiny handful of psychiatrists to be honoured with a fellowship of the Royal Society throughout it long and illustrious history (another being Sir Michael Rutter). Robin Murray graduated in medicine at University of Glasgow in 1968, and began his training in psychiatry in 1972 at the Maudsley Hospital in London.  He started research at the Institute in 1975 and has, more or less, remained there ever since – a rare example of institutionalisation being wholly positive for both the institution and the individual.

Murray is currently Britain’s most highly cited psychiatry researcher, and is the third most highly cited researcher in schizophrenia in the world.  He has won most of the major prizes in psychiatry and has been honoured with awards from countries throughout the world including the USA, Germany, Finland, Italy, Brazil and Denmark.  In 2005, he was chosen as one of the top role models in medicine by the BMA.

The bulk of Murray’s work has been in the field of schizophrenia, a devastating illness affecting around 1% of the population.  His major contribution has been to outline and quantify some specific environmental causes for the disorder. In his first breakthrough studies on twins discordant for schizophrenia, Murray and colleagues showed that the affected co-twin had more cerebral atrophy evident on CT scanning.  This led Murray to suggest that there were two kinds of schizophrenia—one predominantly genetic and the other acquired.  This resulted in a raft of innovative research approaches using everything from large scale epidemiology through serological tests for viruses, right through to the latest applications of functional and structural neuroimaging and genome wide molecular genetic association studies.  The breadth and scope of Murray’s research is truly remarkable.  It has implications for prevention, such as the demonstration that obstetric complications at birth lead to a higher risk of developing schizophrenia later in life, and how misuse of cannabis can cause psychosis or precipitate schizophrenia in those who are susceptible.  The latter work eventually accepted by politicians and planners.

An example of Robin Murray’s readiness to research controversial areas is the increased incidence of schizophrenia in people from black and ethnic minority groups. He has shown the impact of social factors, such as racism and isolation, how genetic and biological factors must be important, and how signs of later problems within the nervous system may be detected in infants and young children.  Such open-mindedness and creative thinking has been the hallmark of Murray’s approach, and has enabled him to take the mental health field beyond the entrenched dogmas of the past.

Perhaps his greatest talent is his ability to spot and nurture young researchers. He has personally supervised over 60 graduate students to achieve higher research degrees, many now senior academics around the world and he is currently the course director of the MSc in Psychiatric Research at the IoP.  Meanwhile, Murray has continued his clinical work in the NHS, and presided over an ever-growing group of staff at the Institute, numbering over 150.  All this has been done with a great sense of humour and modesty. A Festschrift held at the Institute in November 2009 to Honour Professor Murray was marked by an outpouring of good wishes by students past and present from around the Galaxy and was a testament to how he is both universally liked and respected. Fortunately, although Robin has stepped down as head of the department he intends to remain active in research and will no doubt continue to contribute the field for many years to come.

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society said: 'I am delighted to welcome these new Fellows to the Royal Society in what is a hugely important year for us.  These scientists follow in the footsteps of early Fellows such as Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke.  The new Fellows announced today embody the spirit of enquiry, dedicated to ‘the relief of man’s estate’ on which the Royal Society was founded.  That spirit is as alive today as it was 350 years ago.'

The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. For more information on The Royal Society, please follow the link: http://royalsociety.org/New-Fellows-2010-L-P/

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