Items tagged with: Featured


We were saddened to learn of the death of Professor Herbert Gilles last month. Prof Gilles was a memorable contributor to our Wellcome Witness Seminar 'British Contributions to Medical Research and Education in Africa after the Second World War'.
Our Image of the Month shows Professor Roger Jones at our Wellcome Witness Seminar 'Peptic Ulcer: Rise and Fall'

We are delighted to announce the latest publication in our Wellcome Witnesses to Contemporary Medicine oral history series, 'Technology, Techniques, and Technicians at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) c.1960-c.2000', is now available to download for free from this website.

We are delighted to announce the publication of the 50th volume in the Wellcome Witnesses to Contemporary Medicine series on the 21st anniversary of the firs

The 29th February is known to be the traditional day on which women are allowed to propose to men; it is also the day on which many people finally celebrate a delayed, and apparently youthful, birthday. A friend of mine today celebrates his 24th birthday, although chronologically he is in his mid-90s.

Trade exhibitions are major parts of any modern scientific conference. The ‘Festival of Neuroscience’ organised by the British Neuroscience Association at the Barbican in London in April 2013 attracted more than 70 exhibitors demonstrating cutting edge technology over two floors of the Barbican Exhibition halls.

Professor Tilli Tansey and Dr Apostolos Zarros are organising a Research Topic / eBook in collaboration with “Frontiers in Pharmacology” (IF = 4.418) on “Pharmaceutical innovation after World War II: from rational drug discovery to biopharmaceuticals”.

All fifty volumes in the 'Wellcome Witnesses to Contemporary Medicine' seriesAn image depicting the front covers of all fifty volumes in the series 'Wellcome Witnesses to Contemporary Medicine'.

Compliments of the Season to all our website visitors. Our special anniversary 50th volume 'Monoclonal Antibodies to Migraine' is suitable for every doctor's Christmas stocking.

We were saddened to hear of the death of Dr W. Alan Jennings last month. Dr Jennings developed conformal radiotherapy at the Royal Northern Hospital, London. He was a founder member of the Hospital Physicists’ Association and became its President (1966–7).

Our Image of the Month shows Dr Chris Derrett demonstrating the use of microscopes to the 'Young Discoverers' at our Public Engagement event at the Globe Primary School, Bethnal Green, London, on 30th March 2017.

Our Image of the Month depicts Dr Mark Weatherall, chairing our Wellcome Witness Seminar on 'Migraine: Diagnosis, Treatment and Understanding c.1960–2010'. 

Our Image of the Month shows Dr Sheila Callender at the Witness Seminar 'Intestinal Absorption'. 

Our image of the month shows Dr William Notcutt at our Wellcome Witness seminar ‘The Medicalization of Cannabis’. After qualifying from Birmingham University and working as a flying doctor in Lesotho, Dr Notcutt took up anaesthesia.

Our image of the month shows two key participants at our Wellcome Witness Seminar on 'Foot and Mouth Disease: The 1967 outbreak and its aftermath': (l -r) Lord Plumb and Miss Mary Brancker. 

Our image of the month shows Professor Heather Cubie at our Wellcome Witness seminar on 'History of Cervical Cancer and the Role of the Human Papillomavirus, 1960-2000'.

Our image of the month shows Professor Josephine Arendt at our Wellcome Witness seminar on 'The Recent History of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)'.

Our image of the month shows the late Professor Owen Lyndon Wade at our Wellcome Witness Seminar on 'Clinical Pharmacology in the UK, c. 1950–2000: Industry and regulation'. Professor Wade is probably best known for his work on the British National Formulary (BNF) widely regarded as the 'bible' by GPs and those who prescribe and dispense medicines in the UK.

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Bert Bakker at our Wellcome Witness Seminar 'Clinical Molecular Genetics in the UK c.1975–c.2000'.

Professor Bakker has also made memorable contributions to our Witness Seminar on 'Human Gene Mapping Workshops c.1973-c.1991'.

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Kate Bushby at the Witness Seminar on ‘The Therapeutic Implications of Muscular Dystrophy Genomics’.

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Margaret Esiri at our Wellcome Witness Seminar 'The Development of Brain Banks in the UK c.1970–c.2010'

Professor Michael Freeman at the Witness Seminar on, 'Early development of Total Hip replacement' held by the History of Biomedicine Research Group, 14/03/2006.

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Roger Strasser at the Witness Seminar on ‘The Development of Rural Medicine 1970–2000’, the transcript of which is available in ‘Historical Perspectives on Rural Medicine’.

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Seth Love at the Witness Seminar 'The Development of Brain Banks in The UK 1970–2010'.

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Shirley Hodgson at the Witness Seminar on 'Clinical Genetics in Britain: Origins and Development

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Sir Marc Feldmann and Professor Sir Ravinder Nath (Tiny) Maini at the Witness Seminar 'The Recent History of Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF)'

Our Image of the Month shows Professor Tony Coxon at the Witness Seminar 'History of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles'.

Our Image of the Month shows Sir Douglas Black at the Witness Seminar ‘Clinical Research in Britain, 1950–1980’.

With the cold, dark winter days still with us, our image of the month shows Prof Norman Rosenthal  and Prof Jo Arendt at our Witness Seminar on ‘The Recent History of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

To mark World Cancer Day (February 4th) our image of the month shows Professor Sir Kenneth Calman.

Our latest set of video oral history interviews, with endocrinologist Prof Josephine Arendt of the University of Surrey, are now available here:


We have recently witnessed the eruption of what might be called 'Pyjamagate', when the headteacher of Skerne Park Academy in Darlington wrote to parents asking that they dress properly  when dropping off and collecting their children - too many were doing the school run in their nightwear, and she pleaded  for them to set good examples to their offspring

Laziness is the mother of good science. Creation comes from moments when you don’t have anything to do. When you have no teaching, and basic admin, and extra commitments are seen to interfere with research, what if you have strong motivation, and don’t know what to do? If you are teaching, you can fill your gaps by teaching, but researchers have to fill the gaps with thoughts.

The Northwick Park Hospital was being designed... and there were two other things which were mentioned and thought about, but some of them never eventuated. One was the importance of isolation of people who are producing and shedding organisms which are resistant. We were in favour of having isolation rooms in the hospital, but this was very unfashionable and thought to be retrograde. The days when you had to worry about infection were in the past and not something which the 1970s hospital needed to concern itself with!
Now I know that Defra have the prize-winning Twitter team. They use Twitter more skilfully than any other government department, which I think is really interesting. And I also know that the NFU (National  Farmers Union) put in place a Twitter mechanism and encourage their county chairs to use Twitter. These are really big changes – this technology didn’t exist in the early part of the period that we’re reviewing. But nevertheless it is about social engagement and it’s about trying to influence policy, which is based on something very complicated.

A large trolley was wheeled around the wards, which had the monitoring apparatus, the ECG, the blood gas analysis and so on, and much recording apparatus. Ron and I – I had the privilege of working with him then – were deemed the ‘death watch beetles’, because unfortunately we weren’t always successful. Dr Margaret BranthwaiteHistory of British Intensive Care, c.1950–c.2000

What dialysis did as regards the changing attitudes to patients: I remember clearly the business of sharing accommodation between males and females and we were having to defend ourselves to the matron. She was astonished that we had put a female patient with a male patient for dialysis. We said: ‘Do you want her to die or do you want her to live? It’s as simple as that.’ Dr Rosemarie Baillod, History of Dialysis in the UK: c. 1950-1980.

That was always a problem at Christmas because people would put a Christmas tree down. What would be the easiest way to put a Christmas tree into an 18ft gap, you would put it in root first so that the branches, but now the branches have opened up inside, refuse has gone inside and gone on top and added weight to those branches and now it becomes a blocked chute. So people keep putting refuse in so the refuse is piled up with a Christmas tree stopping it and someone has to unblock the chute.

While we’re talking about the Christmas party for the children, which Ian’s talking about, I was organizer for that for I don’t know how many years... The main thing was we had these two entertainers called Naughty Uncle Wally and Aunty Wendy who would come in and they would do the bulk of it. The main problem I had was whether they would turn up... We also had Walt Disney cartoons – this is before television had cartoons on. We used to get those from the Rank Organisation in the Great West Road – they had a place there.

Westminster had 42 major hospitals and clinics within its boundaries at the time and there were no clear guidelines and no definition of who did what with clinical wastes: they just all went in the bin. We had a number of instances where refuse collectors were covered with blood because blood bags would go in the bins and when the compression plate came down it sprayed them. We had needle stick injuries and everything else.

...we had to go up and be what was called ‘desensitized’... We had to go in to the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) office for two days and sit there while every term connected with sexual activities was told to us, because the project managers were concerned that when we all went out to do the interviews, we would come across all these sorts of things and we were not supposed to respond, obviously. We had to be separate from it. Do you remember that? Two days we were there.

… I think we’ve found that the general public, when it becomes aware of post mortem brain research into autism, is very positive about that area of research and also about what they could contribute in terms of control tissue. I think the issues are much more with the autism community in the UK and overcoming some of the misconceptions and fears that are still very strong there. Ms Brenda Nally: The Development of Brain Banks in the UK c.1970–c.2010, pp. 33

I know that Henry Thompson (Surgical Officer, St Mark’s hospital) one day went to visit someone at home who wouldn’t agree to be screened, and Thompson was an Oxford blue boxer and the person that he went to visit was from an East End London boxing family.And he said that he would challenge the man who wouldn’t be screened to a boxing match and the purse would be the examination. So there were lots of stories like that from the early days when the surgeons really went out of their way to find these people.

...we did a series of studies, paid for in part by the Ministry of Health. It was most unusual in those days for the Department to admit that they didn’t know something and to pay us to find the answer, but the sad part was they never paid any attention to the answers that we provided.
One reason why this paper caused a paradigm shift was that the received wisdom was that light did not suppress melatonin in humans and that light did not affect circadian rhythms in humans. The received wisdom then was that social cues were the main synchronizers of human circadian rhythms, that humans had evolved in such a way, that we were so intelligent, that we had risen above control by the light/dark cycle.

... I got home and it was a Friday and The Lancet had arrived in my mail that day. I just picked it up and looked through it and there was a paper in it by Kay Tee Khaw, who was Professor of Clinical Gerontology in Cambridge, on seasonal changes in fibrinogen, which she thought might be due to seasonal infections or something, that allowed for temperature. I just suddenly thought, ‘That’s it! It’s air pollution that is changing fibrinogen. Fibrinogen makes the blood clot and blood clots cause heart attacks.

I remember medicine before the NHS, I had my tonsils out for example. It was an unpleasant experience in a nursing home before the NHS. I remember my mother having to pay the bills of the doctors, and that sort of thing, and I remember my first essay at school, at the age of about six, I was asked to write an essay having been told that doctors were going to be nationalised. I wrote an essay in favour of it. So I’ve always been a great supporter of the NHS...

What was fascinating to me was that medical sociology had, again, no category for the actual experience of being ill. They did epidemiology, they did professionalization of medicine, they did organization of hospitals but…  being ill, simply wasn’t on the academic agenda at that point. Professor Arthur Frank: The Development of Narrative Practices in Medicine c.1960–c.2000, pp. 15

Screening for a genetic disease is often seen as genetic screening in the world out there. It’s not, it’s case identification. Neonatal screening is case identification for management, like screening for non-genetic diseases. What we’re talking about here is screening for identifying carriers in order to inform them of risk, to allow them to manage their risk. Prof Bernadette Modell, Clinical Molecular Genetics in the UK c.1975–c.2000

... the Pill might be causing thrombosis. With some difficulty I organized a national study, picking out all deaths within the childbearing age group that would occur in 1966. I had to wait for them to occur and follow them up. By that time I had recruited a team of field workers – we called them Derrick’s Dolls – they were personable, mostly young, doctors who visited the general practitioners to get the information at first hand, which the doctors appreciated. We got the cause of death from death certificates, and I used the same team to follow up the yellow card reports.

So if I go back perhaps over to the 5-HT3 work we did, that led to the development of anti-emetic drugs, and I think revolutionised the care of cancer patients. You’ve got to remember I never saw these patients. I heard the stories of transformed lives and so on, and they were great. What I did see though were at the time of an economic depression, was the reality of the fact that that work created jobs. I saw teams of people coming in both to the lab work and development work. I saw nurses being employed.

May I share one anecdote that reflects the naivety of the Genetic Nurses and Social Workers Association in the early days? We didn’t know what we were doing and it was decided that a constitution should be established for this new association. But no-one had ever done that before and one of the members of the group was a member of a sailing club and she went and got the constitution for the sailing club and they crossed out ‘sailing’ and put ‘genetic nursing’.

In terms of lessons learnt, it’s totally clear to me that at the beginning of the journey for anti-TNF antibodies... it seemed unachievable clinically to get the required amount of antibodies produced... I think the lesson to be learned from that for us as basic scientists interested in finding new ways to treat diseases is: don’t let yourself be talked down by people telling you, ‘Oh, we cannot make this into a drug.’ Professor Henning WalczakThe Recent History of Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF).

So amongst the other circadian rhythm disturbances one can think about, let me just briefly mention delayed sleep phase syndrome. This is when people have a terrible problem trying to get to sleep at night at a reasonable time and then of course they can’t get up the following day. And David Parkes at King’s and we, together, treated people with this delayed sleep phase syndrome with melatonin to advance them. It worked a treat.

What we were worried about was delivering our professional duty of care, and in other parts of medicine the professional duty of care focused largely on the individual was much better defined than with clinical genetics initially. We were feeling our way, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. And just to talk about giving bad news, in 1966 when I was a house officer, I told a patient who was having a biopsy for what might be Hodgkin disease, I think, I promised that I would tell her the result when she came back from the operation. My consultant was horrified.

A phenomenon was mentioned earlier today about the supposedly strange reaction of one of the original donor relatives who wished to visit the recipient in whom the heart of his daughter beat. It is, in fact, a common reaction. That aspect of organ transplantation has been present since its inception and is very much with us today.

… criticism is so characteristic of nomenclature, it’s always so controversial and people get so het up about it. Their gene is like their baby and everyone always agrees that one gene should only have one name but they are sure it should be theirs. Professor Sue Povey, Human Gene Mapping Workshops c.1973-c.1991, pp. 66-67

At a clinical level one experience that stood out from my houseman days, we admitted patients usually overnight and in the morning had a ward round with the Consultant. And I was talking about this young African boy, he was about in his teens, and he’d come in and I said he was extremely uncooperative, he wouldn’t open his mouth, I couldn’t see what his throat looked like, and I couldn’t examine his abdomen because he was very uncooperative, and wouldn’t relax and so on.
Emerging from Northwick Park Underground station into the 1960s concrete complex which contains St Mark’s Hospital, I am unsure what to find at a world-renowned familial genetics clinic: the Polyposis Registry. I have been invited to look at the registry’s operations by its manager Kay Neale, who was a key contributor to our now-published oral history Witness Seminar on polyposis and familial colorectal cancer.

Burroughs, Wellcome and Company was the pharmaceutical firm established in London in 1880 by two young American pharmacists, Silas Mainville Burroughs and Henry Wellcome. They brought not only new pharmaceutical preparations and production techniques, but also new methods of marketing and advertising to the UK.  Part of that strategy was the provision of free drug samples and gifts in the form of blotters, specially written medical guides and books, and annual medical diaries.