Strangeways Research Laboratory

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Thomas Strangeways, founder of the Strangeways Research Laboratory Thomas Strangeways Wellcome L0003592.jpg
Thomas Strangeways, founder of the Strangeways Research Laboratory

Strangeways Research Laboratory is a research institution in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It was founded by Thomas Strangeways in 1905 as the Cambridge Research Hospital and acquired its current name in 1928. Organised as an independent charity, it was historically funded primarily by the Medical Research Council and is currently managed by the University of Cambridge, also its sole trustee. Formerly a site of research on rheumatic arthritis and connective tissue disorders, it has since 1997 focused on the study of genetic epidemiology. [1] [2]



Honor Fell working at a microscope Honor Fell 2.jpg
Honor Fell working at a microscope

The institution was founded in 1905 as the Cambridge Research Hospital by physician Thomas Strangeways, who sought to study patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and related conditions. Funded by a combination of Strangeways' own contributions, support from noted doctors of the time, and donations from patients, the hospital began modestly with only six beds, and with research equipment located in renovated coal sheds. [3] [4] It closed briefly in 1908 due to lack of funding, but quickly reopened and moved to its current site in 1912 thanks to the support of Otto Beit. It was temporarily repurposed as a hospital for military officers in World War I but returned to use as a research site in 1917. Subsequently, in 1923, Strangeways moved the clinical aspects of his work to St Bartholomew's Hospital in order to focus research efforts at the laboratory on then-emerging technologies in tissue culture and cell biology. [3]

Honor Fell's work area at Strangeways, ca. 1950 Honor Fell's lab desk at Strangeways Wellcome L0073410.jpg
Honor Fell's work area at Strangeways, ca. 1950

Following Strangeways' death in 1926, the laboratory's future and finances were in doubt; advocates of keeping the laboratory open included F.G. Spear and Strangeways' protege Honor Fell, a scientist employed there at the time of Strangeways' death. Funding was obtained largely from the Medical Research Council and the name was changed to Strangeways Research Laboratory in honour of its founder. [3] [5] Fell became the new director of the laboratory and served in that position from 1928 to 1970, while also maintaining an active research program in tissue and organ culture throughout her directorship. Fell was succeeded as director by Michael Abercrombie in 1970, but returned to Strangeways as a scientist in 1979 and continued work until shortly before her death in 1986. A rare example of a woman in a senior management position at the time, Fell is noted for her work supporting scientific careers for women at Strangeways during her tenure as director. [3] [6]

The laboratory was never well-funded, and Fell described the funding situation as "something of a nightmare". [7] :250 Nevertheless, it developed a reputation for excellence in the fields of cell biology, tissue culture, and radiobiology that attracted a wide range of visiting scientists. [3] [8] In the 1930s, the laboratory described itself as a center for development of tissue culture work and of basic research with potential applications to human medicine. [9] The laboratory hosted the first scientific research position held by Francis Crick, who performed part-time research in the late 1940s, supported by Fell. [6]


In 1997 the laboratory was restructured, shifting research focus to genetic epidemiology. It is currently managed by the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge under the directorship of epidemiologist John Danesh. [1] [2] [10]


Directors of the Strangeways Research Laboratory have included: [11]

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Thomas Strangeways Pigg Strangeways (1866-1926) was a British pathologist, known for founding the Cambridge Research Hospital, which was renamed the Strangeways Research Laboratory following Strangeways' death in 1926.

Frederick Gordon Spear was a British physician and researcher. Originally trained in tropical medicine, he spent time working in what was then the Belgian Congo. After his return to England in 1923, he became interested in radiology and radiobiology. As a member of the Medical Research Council, he was involved in the decision to continue work at Strangeways Research Laboratory following the 1926 death of founder Thomas Strangeways. He served as Deputy Director under the laboratory's longtime director Honor Fell from 1931 to 1958. While at Strangeways he conducted experiments on the effects of radiation on cells and tissues, particularly tissue cultures derived from cancers. He was known for forceful rhetoric in support of the then-controversial field of tissue culture and its potential in informing clinical practice.

John T. Dingle is a British biologist and rheumatologist. He joined the staff of the Strangeways Research Laboratory in 1959 as a research assistant to then-director Honor Fell, and later himself served as director from 1979 to 1993, taking over the position after the death of Michael Abercrombie. His presence at Strangeways helped to move its research direction toward the original research interests of its founder, Thomas Strangeways, who sought to understand the physiology of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, after many years in which the laboratory specialized more narrowly in tissue culture and cell biology. Dingle was the president of Hughes Hall from 1993 to 1998, and is an honorary fellow. He was the founding chairman of the British Connective Tissue Society, serving from 1980 to 1987. From 1975 to 1982 he was Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Biochemical Journal. Among his notable trainees is University of California, San Francisco cell biologist Zena Werb, who was a postdoctoral fellow with Dingle and subsequently worked as a research assistant at Strangeways.

John Danesh is a Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine and the head of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge. He also holds several other leadership roles in scientific organizations, including director of the department's affiliate Strangeways Research Laboratory and founder and director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit. He is also an associate faculty member at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and an honorary consultant at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 2007 and of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015.

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  1. 1 2 "History of Strangeways". University of Cambridge Department of Public Health and Primary Care. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  2. 1 2 "Strangeways Research Laboratory". University of Cambridge Department of Public Health and Primary Care. Retrieved 8 December 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Hall, LA (April 1996). "The Strangeways Research Laboratory: archives in the contemporary medical archives centre". Medical History. 40 (2): 231–8. doi:10.1017/s0025727300061020. PMC   1037097 . PMID   8936063.
  4. Adamson, David M. (2015). "7". An Era of Expansion: Construction at the University of Cambridge 1996–2006. Routledge. ISBN   1317531418.
  5. Dingle, JT (November 1987). "Seventy five years of arthritis research at the Strangeways Research Laboratory: 1912–87". Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 46 (11): 801–3. doi:10.1136/ard.46.11.801. PMC   1003395 . PMID   3322210.
  6. 1 2 "The Honor Fell papers". Wellcome Library. Archived from the original on 9 September 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  7. Shils, Edward; Blacker, Carmen (1995). Cambridge women : twelve portraits (1. publ. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521483445.
  8. Cox, S. E.; Spear, E. G. (May 1929). "A Synopsis of the Radiological Work of the Strangeways Research Laboratory, Cambridge". The British Journal of Radiology. 2 (17): 222–227. doi:10.1259/0007-1285-2-17-222.
  9. "Strangeways Research Laboratory, Cambridge". The British Medical Journal. 1 (3886): 1330. 1935. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.3886.1330. PMC   2460951 . PMID   20779183.
  10. 1 2 "John Danesh". Cambridge Institute of Public Health. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  11. "Strangeways Research Laboratory". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 15 December 2015.

Coordinates: 52°10′26″N0°08′59″E / 52.1738°N 0.1497°E / 52.1738; 0.1497