Professor Irwin McLean


Emeritus Professor of Genetic Medicine

Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, School of Life Sciences

portrait of Irwin McLean
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Irwin McLean was Professor of Genetic Medicine at The University of Dundee until his retirement in March 2019.  His research group had identified the causative genes for more than 30 human diseases, including a number of diseases of keratins and associated epithelial structural proteins.  In particular, he had a long-standing interest in the genetics of skin fragility disorders such as epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS) and development of therapy for this and closely related keratin disorders, such as pachyonychia congenita (PC) and Meesmann epithelial corneal dystrophy (MECD).  In recent years, the McLean group identified the filaggrin gene as the cause of the common dry skin condition ichthyosis vulgaris and also showed that these same mutations, carried by more than 10% of people across various populations, are the major genetic predisposing factor for atopic dermatitis and associated allergic conditions, including atopic asthma.  This work demonstrated the importance of skin barrier function in preventing atopic eczema and paved the way for development of new therapeutic angles for this and related allergic diseases. 

During 2011, Irwin established one of the first Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) with GlaxoSmithKline to develop small molecule drugs aimed at treating genetic disease.  In 2014, he and colleagues established a £2m partnership with the Pfizer Rare Disease Consortium to further develop these compounds.  In 2012, funded by a £5.9m Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust, Irwin established the Centre for Dermatology and Genetic Medicine (DGEM) – a cross-College multidisciplinary research initiative aimed at translating basic science discoveries in the inherited skin diseases into new medicines.  In 2015, Irwin’s laboratory relocated to the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery within Life Sciences, due to his close interactions with the Drug Discovery Unit in developing therapy for skin disease. 

In later years, Irwin’s focus shifted towards therapy development with multi-million-pound research programmes in RNA therapy and small molecule drug discovery aimed at inherited disorders of the epidermis and cornea, as well as atopic eczema and asthma. Research into keratin disorders will continue under the direction of Dr Robyn Hickerson.

Throughout his distinguished career, Irwin had over 300 publications submitted and accepted in some of the top leading scientific journals, collaborated with influential and key clinicians and scientists worldwide and was a respected editor, advisor and reviewer.

In recognition of his research work, Irwin won the Times Higher Education Research Project of the year 2006; The CERIES Dermatology Research Prize 2006; The Paul Gerson Unna Dermatology Research Prize 2007; Royal Society Research Merit Award 2007; and the American Skin Association Achievement Award 2009.  

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2005), a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (2009) and a Fellow of the Royal Society (2014).   He was given the top research prize lectures for the European (ESDR), North American (SID) and Asian (JSID) societies for dermatology research and was awarded the Royal Society’s 2015 Buchannan Medal for distinguished contributions to the medical sciences in general.


Award Year
Fellow of the Royal Society 2014
Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences 2009
International Science Prizes awarded since 1990 / American Skin Association Achievement Award 2009
Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 2005