New Chair of Public Health Medicine and Director of the Sir James Mackenzie Institute

Wednesday 31 March 2021


Professor Peter Donnelly


The School of Medicine is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Peter D Donnelly as Director of the Sir James Mackenzie Institute for Early Diagnosis and Professor of Public Health Medicine. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and experience including his work with the Scottish Government as Deputy Chief Medical Officer, and most recently, as the Chief Executive Officer of a large Public Health Agency in Canada.
Peter is no stranger to the University of St. Andrews as he was Professor at the School of Medicine between 2008 and 2014. We are delighted to welcome him back.

During his time as Deputy Chief Medical Officer between 2004 and 2008, Peter worked on pandemic influenza planning, as well as a variety of other projects including the very successful indoor smoking ban, universal sex education, and minimum pricing of alcoholic drinks based on alcohol content. As Professor of Public Health at St Andrews, one of Peters major research interests was violence, and how to reduce the burden of death and disability it imposes. During his time in Canada, Peter remained academically active and made numerous contributions to the organisation and the wider public health system, including his role in the initial provincial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter has worked extensively with the WHO and is a board member of the New York based Milbank Memorial Fund. He is a former President of the UK Directors of Public Health and a former Vice President of the Faculty of Public Health. The range of experience that Peter brings is thus not only wide-ranging but international and includes time in Government as well as on Health Boards.

Professor Donnelly is excited to take on a new challenge as Director of the Mackenzie Institute. The institute is committed to the sharing of ideas and knowledge across a number of disciplines, through which it acquires the capacity to achieve substantial improvements to early diagnosis in four clinical areas: Infection, Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Mental Health. The forerunner of the Institute was founded in the early 20th century by Sir James Mackenzie a Scottish cardiologist and GP.

Some interesting coincidences bind Professor Donnelly to Sir James Mackenzie. They both grew up in Scone in Perthshire and attended the same local high school, Perth Academy. Later, they both studied Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Peter says to this day in his parents’ home, there is a book about the life and work of Sir James Mackenzie, a gift to Peter’s father, Dr James Donnelly, from Sir James Mackenzie’s biographer, Professor Alex Mair.

Professor Donnelly’s ambition for the Institute is to make a difference in communities, not only in Scotland but globally.  A good example of the sort of projects he is keen to support is the work of Arclight.  Launched by the Blakie/Williams team at St Andrew’s, it is a revolutionary frugally designed and affordable pocket-size device, which assists in examining the eyes and ears. It could help save the sight or hearing of millions of people around the world.  Additionally, the Institute is pioneering significant research into the early detection of lung cancer led by the work of Prof Frank Sullivan and colleagues. The study was the largest randomised clinical trial using blood biomarkers for the detection of lung cancer conducted anywhere in the world. The institute involves members of several schools across the University including Professor Kishan Dholakia’s Advanced Biomedical Optical Imaging and Data Analysis group in Physics & Astronomy.

Donnelly believes that the Mackenzie Institute has massive potential, acquiring the best brains and technology within the University to contribute to the early diagnosis of disease. In spite of challenges faced during the pandemic, he expects the work of the Institute to gather pace and have important influence over the coming years. Donnelly adds that collaboration, world-class research, and community impact will be the major drivers going forward. The School of Medicine and wider University will be excited to see the progression and impact of research in the years to come, under his leadership. Welcome home Peter.

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