The 1950s

The link between smoking and lung cancer was first made by Prof Sir Richard Doll and Prof Sir Austin Bradford Hill 1950. In 1954, around 80% of adults in the UK smoked, by 2017 this had fallen to 15.5%.

Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988 and only 22 cases were reported in 2017 globally. This dramatic reduction is the result of the polio vaccination, discovered in the US in 1952 and introduced in the UK through the NHS in 1955.

In 1953 British scientists Crick and Watson identified the double helix 3D structure of DNA. Their Nobel prize winning discovery underpins much of our understanding of disease and new approaches to personalising treatments.

154,700 UK people a year die from heart disease. Prof Jerry Morris linked the condition to levels of physical activity when he showed bus conductors were less prone to coronary heart-disease bus drivers in more sedentary roles.

The application of fibre optics - discovered in 1955 - to medicine has enabled the evolution of minimally invasive surgical and non-surgical treatments, as well as diagnostic imaging. This has resulted in shorter hospital stays and reduced patient mortality.

Following its production for use as an anaesthetic, halothane was shown to be effective in the clinic in 1956. It was used around the world for more than 30 years before being replaced by newer substances; in some developing nations it is still used today.

First described in 1888, coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK. The discovery of gluten as the cause of the disease in the 1950's led to the introduction of gluten-free diets, which remains the only treatment for the condition today.


In 1957 Alick Isaacs and Jean Lindenmann uncovered the role of signalling proteins - inteferons. Today inteferons are used to treat various cancers, and viral infections such as hepatitis. 

John Marshall invented and patented the Excimer laser for laser eye surgery. Today more than 35 million laser vision correction procedures have been performed worldwide.

Discovered by a Scottish pharmacologist in the 1950s, beta-blockers are used treat a wide variety of cardiovascular disorders such as angina and heart failure. Now more than 37 million prescriptions are written a year for beta-blockers.

Research in 1958 paved the way for the use of ultrasound (originally created for use on ships) on #pregnant mothers in Scotland. By the 70s its use had spread across the UK. Today it's offered to over 600,000 women a year in England.