Common Cold Unit

Part of:
Tyrrell, David (1925-2005)
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


The CCU opened in 1946 as the Common Cold Research Unit (referred to as the Common Cold Unit, or CCU from 1960s) of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Ministry of Health (MoH), under the direction of Dr (later Sir) Christopher Andrewes. In 1962, Dr Tyrrell was made head of the CCU, succeeding Andrewes. The Unit carried out laboratory and clinical research on the common cold, with a primary emphasis on studying the conditions involved in transmitting the infection to human voulnteers. The Ministry of Health was responsible for the welfare of volunteers and their accommodation at the Unit, while the MRC provided scientific staff and met the costs of the scientific work carried out.

The site of the CCU was formerly the American Red Cross (ARC) Harvard Hospital, provided and staffed by the American Red Cross and Harvard University to manage communicable diseases during WWII, from 1941 - 1942. The unit consisted of an infectious diseases hospital, as well as a laboratory for the diagnosis of infections.

In July 1942, the ARC-Harvard Hospital was taken over by the US Army as part of the war effort, and became known as Medical Laboratory A. Alongside extensive laboratory work and research, the unit became the main blood transfusion centre for the US Army in Europe during the war.

After the war, the site was once again used for the study of communicable diseases, becoming the home of the Common Cold Unit with the first volunteer trials carried out in July 1946. The Unit was an out-station of the Division of Bacteriology and Virus Research at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Mill Hill; the NIMR division was initially headed by Sir Christopher Andrewes.

The CCU consisted of 12 flats which could accomodate a total of up to 30 volunteers. Volunteers were recruited for 10-day trials which take place at fortnightly intervals throughout the year. During the 10-day experiment, volunteers were quarantined from each other and the outside world on the Salisbury site. Some of the patients were inoculated with a cold virus, administered via nasal drops, whereas others received a placebo, in a double-blind trial. The symptoms were then observed and recorded by CCU staff.

Between 1946 and 1990, when the CCU closed, the unit identified the causes of the common cold, discovered how colds were transmitted, and examined the impact of communicable diseases, such as the common cold, on an international scale. It also conducted work into the prevention and control of various other infectious diseases, including influenza and ARIs, including research into vaccines, anti-viral drugs and interferon.

Aside from volunteer trials at the CCU, staff also carried out epidemiological studies to examine the impact of environment on susceptibility to colds. This included studies of island communities, and area studies focusing on ARIs in young children.

This section includes records relating to the organisation and business of the Common Cold Unit, including reports, papers, and publications; correspondence and trial notes relating to clinical and laboratory trials; epidemiological studies of islands and communities; research and meetings relating to interferon; and other materials regarding work at the unit.



Physical description

30 boxes

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Accession number

  • 1029