Our achievements

The Institute

Institute Staff 1950 snip

The scientific staff of the Lister Institute, 1950

The Lister Institute was an active research institute for just under 85 years and during its history its researchers made significant contributions across many areas of biomedical research and the production staff at Elstree pioneered many new approaches to diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.  Amongst these achievements are:

Biochemistry
• Role of enzymes in the metabolism of plant and animal carbohydrates elucidated
• First synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
• Structure of co-enzyme A defined
• Discovery that immunological specificity of bacteria is conferred by certain oligosaccharides on their surfaces
• Chemical nature of the human A, B, H and Lewis blood group antigens, their biosynthesis and genetic control

Blood and blood products
• Invention of ether method for fractionating plasma to obtain fibrinogen, thrombin, albumin, immunoglobulins etc for clinical use
• Large-scale production of dried human plasma
• First clinically effective Factor VIII concentrate for treating haemophilia
• First anti-D immunoglobulin for treating rhesus-negative mothers
• Development of the radio-immunoassay used nationally to screen blood for hepatitis B
• Blood group genetics and reference centres (Medical Research Council Units)

Microbiology and Immunology
• Life cycles of trypanosomes established
• Method for identifying blood meals of insect vectors devised
• Sequential mutations in surface antigens found to hinder development of protective immunity
• First description of ‘L forms’ of bacteria lacking cell walls
• First isolations in West Africa and the UK of chlamydias affecting the eye and genital tract
• Discovery of the ‘Vi’ antigen of Salmonella typhi
• Motility of flagellated strains of salmonellas used to study phage transduction and its inheritance
• First description of the bacterial sex pilus and its exploitation for studying bacterial plasmids, including those conferring resistance to antibiotics

Vaccines and antitoxins
• Major participation in MRC field trials of pertussis vaccines
• Development of the freeze-dried heat-stable vaccine used in the world smallpox eradication  programme

Our Fellows
The closure of its own facilities did not mean that the institute ceased to make major contributions to biomedical research only that they resulted from the work of its excellent Research Fellows and their laboratories across the UK.  Each Fellow and former Fellow has added to the knowledge base in their own area of research, ‘significant’ papers have been published and patents filed.

The Queen’s award for Technological Achievement
A very significant discovery was made by Dr (later Professor Sir) Alec Jeffreys, one of the first Lister Fellows, in 1984 when he discovered that no two people, (other than identical twins) had the same DNA ‘fingerprint’.  The development and significance of this finding are now history, please click on the Home Page photograph of Sir Alec Jeffreys for the full story!  The novel test was patented and eventually fully developed with ICI both at their Cellmark laboratories at Abingdon and an ICI unit in Maryland, USA.  A share of the significant royalties flowed to the Institute  and in 1990 the Institute was honoured by being awarded, jointly with ICI, the Queen’s award for Technological Achievement.