In 1947, I was appointed to work at the Medical Research Council’s Industrial Injuries and Burns Research Unit, based at the Birmingham Accident Hospital. The director of the new Unit, John Squire, like myself, had done some personnel research in the Services during the war. I also had experience with mepacrine control of Malaria in the Tropics and the treatment of an outbreak of Schistosomiasis in West Africa with intravenous Tartar Emetic. We were both keen to develop clinical research at the Accident Hospital to parallel Leonard Colebrook’s bacteriological studies on Burns.
The science teaching at Burton Grammar School was excellent and had encouraged my interest in the history of Science. I thought the history of the noting and testing of treatments would be a promising topic for my MD Thesis. No formal supervision was possible. Having already had experience of working on original papers for my Cambridge “Part II”, it was not a big step to work up references – using particularly Index Medicus at the Royal Society of Medicine Library.
During late 1950s, Everett Evans, director of the burns unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA, visited our unit in Birmingham. During his visit he noticed my thesis on the history of the clinical trial lying on my desk. In his capacity as editor of the Journal of Chronic Diseases, he invited me to prepare an article based on the thesis, and this was published not long after (Bull JP 1959. The historical development of clinical therapeutic trials. Journal of Chronic Diseases 10:218248).
John P Bull
Birmingham, April 2007