Research Heritage

Books in the Chethams Library, Manchester

Manchester has a rich and enviable history in cancer research and was the location for many pioneering discoveries including world-first discoveries, practice-changing clinical research and the development of new research techniques and facilities.

The MCRC was established in 2006 by The University of Manchester, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Cancer Research UK, but the story of cancer research in Manchester started over a century beforehand. Explore our research heritage and why Manchester is one of the greatest cities to research cancer in the world.

Front of the Paterson Institute
Researcher pippetting samples

The Christie Hospital

The Christie has its beginnings in a Cancer Pavilion and Home for Incurables, which was founded near to the current site of Central Manchester hospitals in 1892. In 1901 it was renamed the Christie Hospital in honour of Richard Christie, who was responsible for spending the bequest of Sir Joseph Whitworth, and his wife Mary. It was the only hospital outside London for the treatment of cancer alone and active in pathological research.

Early treatments for cancer included extracts of cow stomach juice, and some staff were fearful about contracting cancer. Research focus was initially driven by new local diseases caused by industrialisation, such as mule spinners’ cancer and chimney sweep’s cancer. There was also interest in linking these cancers to their root causes, such as machine oils and airborne soot.


A Radiotherapy Powerhouse

Around the same time, there had been promising results from early studies using radiation to treat cancer. Radium had recently been discovered, and there was some interest in Manchester and London around its potential therapeutic uses. An appeal was launched to raise funds to create a Radium Institute, and the first contribution came from Edward Holt, a local brewer. The Institute was initially housed in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, but following a second donation from the Holt family it moved to new premises and became the Manchester and District Radium Institute.

In 1932, the Christie Hospital and the Institute, since renamed the Holt Radium Institute, both moved to a joint site in Withington. At this time, Ralston Paterson was Director of the Institute, and in 1938 his wife Edith began research work, initially unpaid. Edith became a world expert in biological dosimetry, childhood cancers and anti-cancer drug treatment methods.

There were also some disruptions to contend with: in 1915, surgery had to be suspended because of First World War work and during the Second World War the radium still used in treatments was moved to caverns in the Peak District to keep it safe from potential bombing.


The Paterson Institute

The Patersons retired in 1962, and the research laboratories were renamed the Paterson Institute in recognition of their contribution. Professor Laszlo Lajtha became its first full time director and developed research into experimental haematology and epithelial biology. Further funding arrived from the Women’s Trust Fund, a local charity chaired by Lady Margaret Holt, and core funding was secured from the Medical Research Council and the Cancer Research Campaign, now part of Cancer Research UK.

A department of medical oncology was added, and saw the arrival of Professor Derek Crowther. After his appointment in 1983, Professor David Harnden introduced molecular biology and added greater depth in cancer genetics. Further expansion of laboratory space was enabled through support from the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund, CRC and the Women’s Trust Fund. The Institute is now core-funded by Cancer Research UK and in 2013 was renamed the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.

The Christie also saw great expansion and growth during the last century, and in 1948 became part of the newly created NHS. Dr Eric Easson was appointed Director of The Christie following Dr Paterson’s retirement in 1962, and remained as Director until 1979. His initial interest was in leukaemia and he became internationally known for his work on curability. Early detection of cancer was his abiding concern and for eight years he was chairman of the Commission on Cancer Control of the International Union against Cancer (the UICC).

OCRB side at night

The Oglesby Cancer Research Building

Many subsequent clinical and scientific staff members have made significant contributions to research, education and clinical developments – lending their expertise to the broader UK and world community. The University of Manchester developed out of Owens College, whose leading professors were inspired by German universities that saw the importance of the creation of knowledge, not simply its transmission. The University has seen several of the key 20th century advances that have indirectly paved the way for better cancer treatment. These include the work by Ernest Rutherford leading to the splitting of the atom, and the development of the world’s first stored-program computer – ‘Baby’ – by Tom Kilburn and Frederic Williams.

Since the creation of the MCRC partnership in 2006, several key capital developments have taken place. Opened in 2012, the Oak Road patient treatment centre at The Christie has enabled expansion of chemotherapy facilities and offers dedicated space for early phase clinical trials. A new building for MCRC researchers, completed in 2015, brings together 150 laboratory-based scientists from The University of Manchester and the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and is also home to clinical trials support staff and cancer clinicians. In 2018, the facility was renamed the Oglesby Cancer Research Building. Also in that year, the Proton Beam Therapy Centre opened and treated its first patient.

On 26 April 2017 the Paterson Building, which housed the majority of the CRUK Manchester Institute, suffered a major fire resulting in significant structural damage. The Institute, and other research groups associated with The University of Manchester, have relocated to Alderley Park in Cheshire, one of the largest life science communities in Europe. In 2018, The Christie, The University of Manchester and Cancer Research UK, announced plans for the future of the Paterson building site. The multi-million pound development will be led by The Christie on behalf of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre.

Explore more about how the Paterson building will Re-Write the future of cancer research on our Paterson Redevelopment Project webpage.



1917 – discovery of the nuclear model of the atom – Ernest Rutherford
1932 – development of the Manchester Method, the first international standard for radium treatment
1944 – world’s first clinical trial of diethylstilbestrol (Stilboestrol) for breast cancer – Edith Paterson
1948 – world’s first randomised trial in cancer: adjuvant ovarian irradiation – Ralston Paterson
1970 – world’s first clinical use of tamoxifen (Nolvadex) for breast cancer – Moya Cole and Ian Todd
1987 – world’s first pre-surgical use of tamoxifen – Andrew Baildam and Tony Howell
1986 – world’s first use of cultured bone marrow for leukaemia treatment
1987 – world’s first pre-surgical use of tamoifen – Andrew Baildam and Tony Howell
1991 – world’s first single harvest blood stem-cell transplant
2002 – world’s first clinical use of image guided radiotherapy on a radiotherapy machine
2005 – world’s first clinical trials of anastrazole compared to tamoifen – Tony Howell
2006 – MCRC partnership established by The University of Manchester, Cancer Research UK and The Christie
2008 – The Christie became the first UK hospital to be accepted as a member of Organisation of European Cancer Institutes, and officially accredited as a comprehensive cancer centre
2008 – MCRC Biobank established to collect patient samples
2013 – world’s first clinical trails of osimertinib
2017 – first UK trial of mobile cancer screening units
2018 – first high energy proton beam therapy centre in the NHS opens at The Christie



Find out more about the MCRC, a unique partnership between The University of Manchester, Cancer Research UK and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.


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