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Free online access to nearly 200 years of medical research

11 May 2006

Complete back issues covering nearly 200 years of historically significant biomedical journals are being made freely available online as a result of a landmark project launched today at the Wellcome Trust headquarters in London.

On completion, the Medical Journals Backfiles Digitisation Project will deliver over three million pages of medical journals to the archive, free to anyone through standard search tools such as PubMed and Google.

The initiative was developed through a partnership between the Wellcome Trust, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) and a number of medical journal publishers.

The archive will contain a number of discoveries that have changed the face of medicine, including:

  • Sir Alexander Fleming's discovery of the use of penicillin to fight bacterial infections - British Journal of Experimental Pathology, 1929 (continued as the International Journal of Experimental Pathology).
  • Sir Richard Doll's groundbreaking study that confirmed that smoking was a "major cause" of lung cancer – British Medical Journal, 1954.
  • Walter Reed's paper proving that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes - Journal of Hygiene, 1902 (continued as Epidemiology and Infection).
  • Kenneth Burton's classic and highly cited "methods" paper, which provided a standard way of assaying DNA concentration in a solution using diphenylamine - Biochemical Journal, 1956 (online now).
  • Hodgkin and Huxley's Nobel Prize-winning paper on ionic theory of the nerve impulse - Journal of Physiology, 1952 (online now). This work was the foundation for thousands of subsequent studies of electrical signalling in the brain, and has been useful for understanding the origins of many disorders that result from defects in electrical signalling - such as multiple sclerosis, muscle myotonias and heart arrhythmias.
  • Frederick Treves's 1888 paper in which he described the first operation on an inflamed appendix - Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, 1888 (continued as the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine). On publication, the paper was not initially well received as surgical intervention was discouraged in such cases. Seven years later this became the accepted practice.
  • Arunlakshana and Schild's 1959 paper on the characteristics of drug binding to receptor sites - British Journal of Pharmacology, 1959.Using the approach articulated in this paper the authors showed, for example, that the histamine receptors in various guinea pig and human tissues were the same.

Participating publishers have also agreed to continue to deposit current content of their journals into this archive. They will be freely available after an embargo period: a maximum of one year for all research papers.

In addition to the faithful replication of every published page, the archive provides a number of innovative, value-added functions, including links from references to full text, high-resolution images, full text searching across the entire archive, and links from the original article to corrections and retractions and vice-versa.

Dr Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "This growing collection will be of lasting benefit to researchers, practitioners and medical historians worldwide. It will provide access to important scientific literature from the past, free of charge, to anyone in the world with internet access."

JISC's Executive Secretary, Dr Malcolm Read, said: "This archive and its commitment to free and open access to the outputs of scientific research demonstrates the value of collaboration between funding bodies, publishers, and the academic and research communities. JISC is delighted to have worked closely with the Wellcome Trust and the National Library of Medicine on what is an impressive and important resource."

Dr Donald AB Lindberg, Director of the National Library of Medicine said: "The importance of this archive is realised every day - our studies show that researchers and authors whose articles appear in PubMed Central are read and cited hundreds of times more than they were in their original print format. PubMed Central has greatly benefited from the journal content and funding contributions made possible by the Wellcome Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee."

The Backfiles archive can be accessed free of charge through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) full-text, life sciences repository PubMed Central (PMC). Journals will be added to the archive as soon as they are digitised. PubMed citations are added to the database when the archive is complete.

Further information about this project can be found on the Wellcome Library website.

Media enquiries

Wellcome Trust
Vivien Goldsmith
T
+44 (0)20 7611 8364 / 8866
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+44 (0)20 7611 8285 (out-of-hours)
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media office@wellcome.ac.uk

JISC
Philip Pothen
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+44 (0)20 7848 2935
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07887 564 006 (out-of-hours)
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p.pothen@jisc.ac.uk

NLM
Robert Mehnert
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(301) 496 6308
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mehnertr@mail.nih.gov

Notes for editors

The full list of participating journals:

  • Anesthesia Progress, 1954, Allen Press
  • Annals of Surgery, 1885, LiWW
  • Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1947, RCSE
  • Biochemical Journal, 1906, Portland Press
  • British Medical Journal (BMJ), 1853, BMJ Publishing Group
  • British Journal of Cancer, 1947, Nature Publishing Group
  • British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1974, Blackwell Publishing
  • British Journal of General Practice, 1952, RCGP
  • British Journal of Pharmacology, 1946, Nature Publishing Group
  • Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 1966, Blackwell Publishing
  • Epidemiology and Infection, 1901, Cambridge University Press
  • Immunology, 1958, Blackwell Publishing
  • International Journal of Experimental Pathology, 1920, Blackwell Publishing
  • Journal of Anatomy, 1866, Blackwell Publishing
  • Journal of Physiology, 1878, Blackwell Publishing
  • Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1809, RSM Press
  • Medical History, 1957, UCL.

NB these are the current journal names – some journals have had several name changes.

In addition to the journals being digitised under this project, the NLM is also digitising additional journals, including the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The EMBO Journal.

JISC is a joint committee of the UK further and higher education funding bodies and is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching and research.It is best known for providing the JANET network, a range of support, content and advisory services, and a portfolio of high-quality resources.

This project is one of six digitisation projects being managed by JISC with funding from HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). The JISC programme represents a total investment of some £10 million in the digitisation of high-quality online content, including sound, moving pictures, newspapers, census data, journals and parliamentary papers for use by the UK further and higher education communities.

The Wellcome Trust is the most diverse biomedical research charity in the world, spending about £450 million every year both in the UK and internationally to support and promote research that will improve the health of humans and animals. The Trust was established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome, and is funded from a private endowment, which is managed with long-term stability and growth in mind.

The Wellcome Library is one of the world's greatest collections for the study of the history of medicine. The print, manuscript audio, film, pictorial and digital collections are a national treasure and an unrivalled intellectual resource.

The Wellcome Trust was awarded the first Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) Europe Award for Outstanding Achievements in Scholarly Communications by SPARC Europe, for its work on open access. SPARC Europe represents over 100 European research-led university libraries from 14 European countries.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM), on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, is the world's largest medical library. The Library collects materials in all areas of biomedicine and health care, as well as works on biomedical aspects of technology, the humanities, and the physical, life, and social sciences. The collections stand at more than 8 million items: books, journals, technical reports, manuscripts, microfilms, photographs and images. Housed within the Library is one of the world's finest medical history collections of old and rare medical works. The Library's collection may be consulted in the reading room or requested on interlibrary loan.

For 125 years, the Library published the Index Medicus, a monthly subject/author guide to articles in 4000 journals. This information, and much more, is today available in PubMed. PubMed has more than 16 million Medline journal article references and abstracts going back to the mid-1960s,with another 1.5 million references back to the early 1950s. Additional citations are being added from the backfiles of journals scanned for PubMed Central.

Wellcome Trust, Gibbs Building, 215 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK T:+44 (0)20 7611 8888