UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Retinal research pioneer dies in her early 80s.

16 November 2022

We are sad to announce the death of Dr Mary Voaden.


By Professor John Marshall

I'm sad to announce the death of Dr Mary Voaden on 1 November 2022. Mary was in her early 80s. She joined the then Institute of Ophthalmology, at the time located in Judd Street, in 1964 at a time when Professor Herbert Dartnell headed the MRC Visual Science Group. Dartnell was the originator of the eponymous nomogram characterising the behaviour of rhodopsin. Mary joined this unit working with Professor Robert Weale and in the early days worked on the biochemistry underlying the development of the lens. In the ‘70s her work moved towards the biochemistry of the retina and over the next three decades she published 65 seminal peer reviewed papers including several in Nature relating to the biochemistry of the retina. Mary was particularly well known for her work elucidating the importance of glutamate, aspartate, lysine, GABA and Taurine as neurotransmitters. She was particularly interested in quantifying the effects of light on modification of retinal metabolism and extended this to studies on the mechanisms of light damage and the protective effects of taurine. She established methods for enhancing the recovery of electrophysiological functions in post-mortem human retina. She was a pioneer in demonstrating methodology to enhance survival of active transport systems in donor human RPE and thus allowed the assessment of changes as a function of age. She analysed the role of cGMP and calcium in the photoreceptor cells and assessed anomalies of this function in a variety of models of retinal degeneration. Mary was the first to show that when mRNA was injected into Xenopus oocytes the transduction machinery was both translated and activated resulting in a photo response. She established the presence of several blood biomarkers in inherited retinal dystrophies in humans and also elucidated the underlying mechanisms of retinal degenerations in both Abyssinian cats and Tibetan terrier dogs. Mary was also an excellent teacher who guided the PhDs of individuals like Ali Hussain and Norma Lake who both pursued academic careers. She was also the first in the Institute to establish a teaching program running an MSc course in neuro biochemistry together with colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry. She was a great biochemist and a wonderful colleague and will be sadly missed by all who knew her.