Views & Reviews Medical Classics

War on Disease: a History of the Lister Institute

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 30 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8209
  1. Jonathan Chick, honorary professor, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
  1. jonathan.chick{at}

The Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, established as a research institute in 1891, was the first medical research charity in the United Kingdom ( In this book the institute’s scientists refer to the Lister as a way of life, “a habit of thought.”

Staff took alarming risks in pursuit of science. In 1905, plague in India killed half a million people. The Lister expedition asked people to hand in dead rats, with a quarter of an anna paid per rat—a now defunct unit of currency equal to 1/16 of a rupee. A street map was drawn linking infected rats to homes of deceased citizens. But how was bacillus pestis transmitted? Not by a rat bite. The answer …

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