It’s 80 years today since the identification of the flu virus by researchers at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research was published in The Lancet. John McCauley, Director of the World Health Organization Influenza Centre based at NIMR, looks back on the discovery, how it led to the vaccination programmes we see today, and the role played by ferrets.
The devastating flu pandemic of 1918 killed more than 50 million people worldwide, highlighting the urgent need for research into the disease. But it was not until 1933 that scientists at the MRC NIMR (then based at Hampstead) identified and managed to grow the virus in the lab.
It was during a large flu epidemic in the winter of 1932 to 1933 that scientists at the NIMR’s animal research outpost at Mill Hill noticed that ferrets, being used to develop a vaccine against the disease canine distemper, were suffering from the same symptoms as people with flu. Read more