National Institute for Medical Research

National Institute for Medical Research

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The National Institute for Medical Research, commonly abbreviated to NIMR, is a medical research facility situated in Mill Hill
Mill Hill
Mill Hill is a place in the London Borough of Barnet. It is a suburb situated 9 miles north west of Charing Cross. Mill Hill was in the historic county of Middlesex until it was absorbed by London...

, on the outskirts of London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. It is mainly funded by the Medical Research Council
Medical Research Council (UK)
The Medical Research Council is a publicly-funded agency responsible for co-ordinating and funding medical research in the United Kingdom. It is one of seven Research Councils in the UK and is answerable to, although politically independent from, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills...

, or MRC, and is its largest establishment and the only one designated as an 'Institute'. The MRC has published plans to move the institute to a new site in central London, in 2025.


The National Institute for Medical Research specialises in four main research areas;
  • Genetics
    Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

     and Development
  • Infections and Immunity
    Immunity (medical)
    Immunity is a biological term that describes a state of having sufficient biological defenses to avoid infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasion. Immunity involves both specific and non-specific components. The non-specific components act either as barriers or as eliminators of wide...

  • Neuroscience
    Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics,...

  • Structural Biology
    Structural biology
    Structural biology is a branch of molecular biology, biochemistry, and biophysics concerned with the molecular structure of biological macromolecules, especially proteins and nucleic acids, how they acquire the structures they have, and how alterations in their structures affect their function...

There are 18 divisions, over 200 scientists and at least 200 other trained personnel, including postgraduate students. The NIMR's annual research budget is £25 million.


The Medical Research Council, founded in 1913, was immediately charged with establishing a central research institute in London. Later that year, premises at Hampstead
Hampstead is an area of London, England, north-west of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden in Inner London, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland...

 were acquired and the National Institute for Medical Research was founded.

However, the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 soon after postponed occupation of the building, although senior staff were appointed and began work. By 1920 the Institute at Mount Vernon Hospital
Mount Vernon Hospital
Mount Vernon Hospital is one of two hospitals run by The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, located in Northwood.-History:The hospital was founded in 1860 as The North London Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest in Fitzroy Square and moved in 1864 to Mount Vernon in Hampstead...

 was fully operational and remained so for 30 years until the move to its current location at Mill Hill. The original Institute, under the directorship of Sir Henry Dale, had three divisions:
  • Bacteriology
    Bacteriology is the study of bacteria. This subdivision of microbiology involves the identification, classification, and characterization of bacterial species...

  • Biochemistry
    Biochemistry, sometimes called biological chemistry, is the study of chemical processes in living organisms, including, but not limited to, living matter. Biochemistry governs all living organisms and living processes...

     and Pharmacology
    Pharmacology is the branch of medicine and biology concerned with the study of drug action. More specifically, it is the study of the interactions that occur between a living organism and chemicals that affect normal or abnormal biochemical function...

  • Applied Physiology
    Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

Dale oversaw a period of considerable success at NIMR, including the discovery of the human influenza virus in 1933 and the discovery of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine
The chemical compound acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in both the peripheral nervous system and central nervous system in many organisms including humans...

, for which Dale himself received the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine administered by the Nobel Foundation, is awarded once a year for outstanding discoveries in the field of life science and medicine. It is one of five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, in his will...


Moving to Mill Hill

In the 1930s the decision was made to move the Institute to new premises. An imposing copper-roofed building at Mill Hill was designed by Maxwell Ayrton
Maxwell Ayrton
Ormrod Maxwell Ayrton FRIBA , known as Maxwell Ayrton, was a Scottish architect. He spent most of his adult life working in London and designed houses, public buildings, and bridges.- Career :...

, also the architect of the original Wembley Stadium
Wembley Stadium
The original Wembley Stadium, officially known as the Empire Stadium, was a football stadium in Wembley, a suburb of north-west London, standing on the site now occupied by the new Wembley Stadium that opened in 2007...

, and construction began in 1937. Once again, occupation was delayed when war
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 broke out in 1939 and the building was given to the Women's Royal Naval Service
Women's Royal Naval Service
The Women's Royal Naval Service was the women's branch of the Royal Navy.Members included cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians and air mechanics...

. The building was returned to the MRC in autumn 1949 but Sir Henry Dale had retired in 1942 and so was never director on the new site, that job falling to his successor Sir Charles Harington.

The official opening ceremony
Opening ceremony
An opening ceremony is the official opening of a building or event. The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup are huge events involving thousands of participants and watched by a massive worldwide audience. On a much smaller scale, some ceremonies mark the opening of a...

 took place on the 5 May 1950, with their Majesties King George VI
George VI of the United Kingdom
George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death...

 and Queen Elizabeth present. Harington expanded the research programme into ten divisions during his 20 year tenure and guided researchers at the Institute to, amongst other achievements, the development of gas chromatography and the discovery of interferon
Interferons are proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of pathogens—such as viruses, bacteria, or parasites—or tumor cells. They allow communication between cells to trigger the protective defenses of the immune system that eradicate pathogens or tumors.IFNs belong to...

. From 1950-55 Albert Neuberger
Albert Neuberger
Albert Neuberger CBE FRS FRCP was Professor of Chemical Pathology, St Mary's Hospital, University of London, 1955–1973, and later Emeritus Professor.-Education in Germany:...

 was Head of Biochemistry at the Institute.

In 1962, Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Medawar
Peter Medawar
Sir Peter Brian Medawar OM CBE FRS was a British biologist, whose work on graft rejection and the discovery of acquired immune tolerance was fundamental to the practice of tissue and organ transplants...

 became director and, consistent with his research interests, established NIMR as a major centre for immunological research
Immunology is a broad branch of biomedical science that covers the study of all aspects of the immune system in all organisms. It deals with the physiological functioning of the immune system in states of both health and diseases; malfunctions of the immune system in immunological disorders ; the...

. Following an illness, Medawar retired as director in 1971 to be replaced by Sir Arnold Burgen
Arnold Burgen
Sir Arnold Stanley Vincent Burgen FRS was Master of Darwin College, Cambridge 1982-89 , Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cambridge University, 1985–89, and founding President of the Academia Europæa....

. Burgan had an interest in nuclear magnetic resonance
Nuclear magnetic resonance
Nuclear magnetic resonance is a physical phenomenon in which magnetic nuclei in a magnetic field absorb and re-emit electromagnetic radiation...

 techniques and formed the MRC Biomedical NMR Centre at the Institute in 1980. Sir Dai Rees became director in 1982 to be replaced by Sir John Skehel
John Skehel
Sir John James Skehel, FRS is a British virologist. He was born in Blackburn to Joseph and Annie Skehel in 1941, and was educated at St. Mary's College, Blackburn before being accepted to the University of Aberystwyth for a BSc in agricultural biochemistry.Soon after graduating he married Anita...

 in 1987. Since then NIMR has continued to excel scientifically reporting, perhaps most famously, the discovery of the sex
In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety . Sexual reproduction involves combining specialized cells to form offspring that inherit traits from both parents...

 determining gene SRY
SRY is a sex-determining gene on the Y chromosome in the therians .This intronless gene encodes a transcription factor that is a member of the SOX gene family of DNA-binding proteins...

, in 1991.

Towards the future

In 2003, as part of their Forward Investment Strategy, the MRC announced plans to consider moving NIMR from its current location to a university/medical school site, to enhance its ability "to translate its biomedical research into practical health outcomes."
University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

 was selected as a preferred partner institution, and a nearby site in central London was acquired.

Some staff at the NIMR, including Robin Lovell-Badge and John Skehel, expressed opposition to a move. In response to accusations of "coercion
Coercion is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way...

" during the review process, a House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 select committee investigation criticised both the MRC for losing the confidence of NIMR workers, and unnamed NIMR staff for "undermining [Colin] Blakemore's
Colin Blakemore
Professor Colin Blakemore, Ph.D., FRS, FMedSci, HonFSB, HonFRCP, is a British neurobiologist who is Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and University of Warwick specialising in vision and the development of the brain. He was formerly Chief Executive of the British Medical...

 position as MRC chief executive."

In September 2006, Sir John Skehel retired as NIMR director and Sir Keith Peters
Keith Peters (medicine)
Sir David Keith Peters FRS FMedSci FRCP FRCPE FRCPath FLSW was Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge from 1987 to 2005, where he was also head of the School of Clinical Medicine.- Career :...

 became acting director until the future structure of the new institute could be finalised. In July of that year the MRC announced that Scott Fraser of the California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering...

 had been invited to take over the directorship. According to Blakemore, negotiations were ongoing as of December 2006. However, finally, in October 2008, Jim Smith of the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 (who worked at the NIMR from 1984 to 2000), accepted the Directorship, with effect from January 2009.

The construction of the new NIMR facility is scheduled to begin in July 2011. The new centre is to be called the Francis Crick Institute.

Mill Hill Essays

A yearly collection of essays are produced by guest authors and staff at the Institute, under the title Mill Hill Essays. They are written to be accessible and informative to the lay reader.

Animal testing

Some scientists at NIMR perform research on animals
Animal testing
Animal testing, also known as animal experimentation, animal research, and in vivo testing, is the use of non-human animals in experiments. Worldwide it is estimated that the number of vertebrate animals—from zebrafish to non-human primates—ranges from the tens of millions to more than 100 million...

. Because of this, and the perception that the Institute is the MRC's flagship
A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, reflecting the custom of its commander, characteristically a flag officer, flying a distinguishing flag...

 facility, there are weekly protests by members of animal rights
Animal rights
Animal rights, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings...

 groups outside the complex. These protests usually take place on a Wednesday evening, and normally have a low attendance (5 people or less).


  • The rooms and other locations in the building were used in the film Batman Begins
    Batman Begins
    Batman Begins is a 2005 American superhero action film based on the fictional DC Comics character Batman, directed by Christopher Nolan. It stars Christian Bale as Batman, along with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson,...

    , for the Arkham Asylum
    Arkham Asylum
    The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, commonly referred to simply as Arkham Asylum, is a fictional psychiatric hospital in the DC Comics Universe, usually appearing in stories featuring Batman...


External links