Press release

Free online access to nearly 200 years of medical research

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.