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One year after World War II ended, the Oxford medical school was permanently established. It admitted only five students in the new intake, and remained small throughout the 1950s. However, after the arrival of a new Regius Professor, Sir George Pickering, in 1956, and the decision to establish a hospital on the Manor House site in Headington, the school began to grow, attracting more students and developing an international reputation.  

In 1959, researchers working at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology achieved a major step forward in cell biology with the discovery of the role of the lymphocyte. Using radioactive labelling, James Gowans traced the route of blood cells in rats, and was able to demonstrate that lymphocytes continuously recirculated from the blood to the lymph. Working with Peter Medawar, Gowans then discovered that immunity resides in the lymphoid tissue, and that lymphocytes were key to immunological reactions. This insight contributed to the fight against infection agents, and the development of effective vaccines.   

Lymphocytes in the blood         Lymphoctyes in the blood. Image courtesy of Juan Gaertner, Shutterstock

Following the appointment of Sir Peter Morris as Nuffield Professor of Surgery in 1974, the University also developed a renowned research programme in transplant immunology. Morris and his colleagues pioneered the successful development of kidney transplantation in Oxford and the UK. Transplant immunology remains a strong area of research in the Nuffield Department of Surgical SciencesRead more about their work.

New departments continued to develop at the University throughout this period, strengthening its reputation for both teaching and research. The Department of Psychiatry opened in 1969, and over the next ten years the Regius Professor (and respected epidemiologist) Sir Richard Doll negotiated finance for a further five new academic chairs at the University. His efforts ensured that clinical teaching at Oxford was underpinned by robust academic foundations, and by the opening of the John Radcliffe Hospital in 1979, there were around one hundred students studying clinical medicine at the University. The medical school moved from the Radcliffe Infirmary to the new hospital, although the Infirmary remained open until 2007. 

JR Hospital

John Radcliffe Hospital, © Oxford Medical Illustration 

The last two decades of the 20th century saw Oxford expand its global research programme to become an international leader in tropical medicine. Since the late 1970s Oxford has established three Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programmes in Kenya, Thailand and Vietnam. Research from these programmes and from centres in Oxford has transformed global knowledge of well-publicised killers such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and developed our understanding of infectious disease.

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