The 1990s

Research in the 1980s and 1990s showed that low doses of blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin and warfarin significantly reduced the number of heart attacks and strokes in people at risk.

In 1991 the Back to Sleep public health campaign, informed by research, helped to reduce the number of babies in the UK dying from Sudden infant death syndrome, also known as cot death, from around 1500 in 1989 to less than 300 a year.

A nine-year-long MRC clinical trial showed that giving pregnant women folic acid reduces the risk of major birth defects of the brain and spine. Flour fortification with folic acid is now mandatory in over 70 countries.

In 1991, Professors John Hardy & Martin Rossor discovered the first Alzheimer’s gene. Uncovering the link between mutations of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene and Alzheimer's has influenced research into treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's. 

Research supported by Arthritis Research UK in the early 90s found the protein TNF-alpha was driving joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis. This informed the development of anti-TNF drugs that can now be used to help an estimated 400,000 people in the UK.

Professor John Porter from UCL developed Deferasirox in 1992 to help patients with thalassaemia diagnosed with transfusional iron overload. Around 1,000 UK people have thalassaemia - a blood disorder - and 300,000 are thought to be carriers.

Natalizumab, the first NICE-recommended disease-modifying treatment for highly active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, was developed in 1992. By 2017 around 175,000 people across the world were taking natalizumab, which can slow disability by 42% and reduce relapses by 68%. 

Children with rare inherited metabolic diseases today have dramatically better life expectancy and quality of life, thanks to the University of Manchester research to identify the genes associated with fatal lysosomal storage diseases.

Highly Active Antiretroviral therapy (HAART), a combination of at least three drugs that suppress virus replication, has revolutionised treatment for HIV. Since the introduction of HAART on the NHS in 1996, the life expectancy of UK HIV patients has improved by 16 years.

Stanley Prusiner won the Nobel prize in 1997 for his discovery that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) - a rare, degenerative brain condition - could be transmitted by an infectious misfolded protein, termed a prion. This discovery has helped us to understand prion diseases and prevent their spread, reducing the risk of another "mad cow" epidemic.

Researchers at The Royal Marsden and the ICR pioneered development of intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) to deliver precise doses of radiation to tumours. This is a safer, more effective treatment for patients with less damage to healthy tissue.


Discovering that fragments of an unborn baby's DNA circulate freely in its mother bloodstream in significant quantities led to NIHR-funded researchers developing tests to identify Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Down's syndrome in utero.

The Birmingham hip resurfacing technique is a bone conserving alternative to total hip replacement for young and active patients. Mortality rates are significantly lower with this approach, patented in 1997.

Professor Higginson developed the Palliative Care Outcome Scale in 1999 to evaluate many essential and important outcomes in palliative care in patients with advanced disease. The intervention is now used globally, having demonstrated improvement in end-of-life care.