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Professor Sarah C Darby has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of her exceptional contribution to science. 

Sarah is Professor of Medical Statistics in the Nuffield Department of Population Health. She is a statistical epidemiologist who has formulated and studied several questions regarding the impact of ionising radiation on human health. She studied Mathematics at Imperial College London, Mathematical Statistics at the University of Birmingham, and Medical Statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She then worked at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, the National Radiological Protection Board, and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, before moving to the University of Oxford in 1984. Since then her major funder has been Cancer Research UK.

Sarah and her team have demonstrated that there is a linear relationship between the dose of radiation delivered incidentally to the heart during breast cancer radiotherapy and the subsequent risk of ischaemic heart disease, and that the absolute size of the radiation-related risk is bigger for women already at increased risk of heart disease.   

She and her team have also estimated the absolute size of the benefit of radiotherapy to breast cancer patients and their work is enabling comparison of the likely absolute benefit of radiotherapy with its likely absolute risk for individual patients. Therefore it is now becoming possible to assess which patients can receive standard radiotherapy, which should be considered for advanced techniques, and which should avoid radiotherapy altogether.  

Other topics that Sarah has worked on include estimating the risk of lung cancer from residential radon, the risk of invasive breast cancer after a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ, and the risk of cancer after computerised tomography scans in young people.  

Sarah is one of 50 eminent scientists who have been elected Fellows of the Royal Society, alongside 10 new Foreign Members. Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, says: ‘Over the course of the Royal Society’s vast history, it is our Fellowship that has remained a constant thread and the substance from which our purpose has been realised: to use science for the benefit of humanity. 

‘This year’s newly elected Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society embody this, being drawn from diverse fields of enquiry—epidemiology, geometry, climatology—at once disparate, but also aligned in their pursuit and contributions of knowledge about the world in which we live, and it is with great honour that I welcome them as Fellows of the Royal Society.’ 

A formal Admissions Day ceremony will take place in July.