Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JOSEPH STANLEY MITCHELL FRS (1909 - 1987)

This record is held by Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives

Details of NCUACS 36.4.92
Reference: NCUACS 36.4.92
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JOSEPH STANLEY MITCHELL FRS (1909 - 1987)

















The material is presented in the order given in the List of Contents. This large and comprehensive collection covers almost all aspects of Mitchell's professional career.


Section A, Biographical, consists principally of Mitchell's own biographical records of his career, and family and personal correspondence. It includes summaries by Mitchell of his research activities, and an album used for newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia relating to the Radiotherapeutic Centre and Department of Radiotherapeutics. At A.84 is the notice displayed in the Department proclaiming 'The aim of this department is to improve the treatment of cancer'.


Section B, Cambridge, is the largest in the collection. The very substantial material is presented in four subsections: (1) the Department of Radiotherapeutics/Radiotherapeutic Centre; (2) Addenbrooke's Hospital; (3) University of Cambridge; and (4) Lectures. The first subsection documents establishment and general administration, accommodation, staffing and equipment (synchrotron, linear accelerator etc) of the Department and the Centre, the funding of Mitchell's research (especially the British Empire Cancer Campaign and Mitchell's own Cancer Research Fund), and the future of the Department after Mitchell's retirement in 1976. The second subsection documents Mitchell's wide-ranging involvement in hospital affairs as head of the Department and Centre and as Regius Professor of Physic. Of particular interest are the extensive records relating to the development of the new Hills Road hospital site which was of great importance to Mitchell because of his plans for the University Medical School. The third subsection presents Mitchell's Faculty Board of Medicine/Faculty Board of Clinical Medicine papers and his extensive Medical School files which document the development of the Postgraduate Medical School from his acceptance of the Regius Chair to the mid 1960s and the establishment of the pre-graduate Clinical School. This subsection also includes documentation of miscellaneous university boards, committees, departments, colleges and societies and Mitchell's university examining. Of particular interest are the papers relating to the development of medical psychology in the Department of Medicine and those relating to the Cambridge Graduates' Medical Club which include Mitchell's annual reports on the Medical School. The final subsection brings together Mitchell's departmental lectures (correspondence re arrangements, drafts, illustrative material etc) and documentation of courses and symposia for general medical practitioners and medical students organised in conjunction with the hospital and Medical School.


Section C comprises Notebooks, used by Mitchell for research notes, bibliographical notes, notes taken during visits and conferences, etc. Of particular interest are Mitchell's research notebooks, which cover the period 1926-81. They include some used by Mitchell at Birmingham and Cambridge as an undergraduate and during pre-clinical and clinical training, and later notebooks recording his work after the Second World War on radiosensitising and radioactive drugs. These are often very bulky holding substantial quantities of additional material either intercalated loose or clipped to pages of the volume. This material is integral to the notebooks as Mitchell used them to 'file' papers relevant to his current research activities and may include correspondence, reprints, photographs, figures and graphs, and manuscript and typescript notes.


Section D, Research, documents all aspects of Mitchell's research, other than that recorded in Mitchell's notebooks, from the early work under Rideal to his final clinical research project started in 1985. The bulk of the material was found in Mitchell's own folders and envelopes, sometimes with subject titles inscribed thereon. There are three subsections. The first is Mitchell's early (1930s) research. This chiefly relates to his investigations carried out at the Colloid Science Laboratory in Cambridge. The second subsection documents his research into the biochemistry of ionising radiations, particularly with reference to the health risks involved, chiefly carried out 1941-49. It includes work carried out while in Canada. The third subsection is the largest. It relates to Mitchell's principal research activity - his effort to find a cure for cancer - and documents both his work as a scientist undertaking research into radiotherapeutic techniques and as a doctor treating patients with cancer. The material includes manuscript and typescript notes, reports by Mitchell and others, correspondence and memos, notes on the literature, data from experiments, patient records, notes on meetings with colleagues, protocols for and results of clinical trials etc. Also of interest is the material at D.98-D.104 relating to the sterilisation by radiation of foodstuffs and medicines. This arose out of ICI interest in this area in 1946. Mitchell felt the idea was worth pursuing and served on an informal group supporting such research.


Section E, Publications, lectures and broadcasts, brings together material for some of Mitchell's published papers, public lectures and broadcasts. It includes material on the 1984 WHO-IAEA compendium 'Cobalt-60 teletherapy' which Mitchell edited with M. Cohen. Also in this section are drafts, background material and correspondence relating to a planned book 'Principles in Radiotherapeutic Oncology', which Mitchell started but never completed. A set of Mitchell's published papers is to be found at E.147.


Section F, Societies and organisations, documents Mitchell's association with 38 British, overseas and international organisations. The organisation for which there is most documentation is the Medical Research Council. Mitchell saw extensive service for the MRC from 1946, sitting on numerous committees and panels to advise on radiation hazards and the medical applications of radiation, and attending a number of the British-US-Canadian Tripartite Conferences on the uses of nuclear energy. He also assisted, on behalf of the MRC, Danish investigations into thorotrast, a solution of thorium dioxide which had been widely used in Denmark for radiological investigations and which had been identified as a possible cause of illness in a number of patients. The MRC material includes committee papers, reports by Mitchell and others, notes and correspondence. The section also presents comprehensive documentation of the establishment and work of the Anglo-German Medical Society. Mitchell was a founder of the Society, formed in 1959 principally to promote contacts between academic and research doctors in UK and West Germany, and was President of the British Section to 1968. Other societies and organisations represented include the International Union Against Cancer, the Ministries of Health and Supply and the World Health Organisation.


Section G, Visits and conferences, presents a chronological sequence, 1946-86, of some of Mitchell's engagements, both in the UK and abroad. It includes Mitchell's attendance at the first four United Nations Conferences on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Power, held in 1955, 1958, 1964 and 1971. He made many visits to Germany, some of which are documented in the material relating to the Anglo-German Medical Society in Section F and others in the Notebooks Section.


Section H, Correspondence, is a substantial section comprising Mitchell's correspondence files arranged alphabetically, and subsections of shorter scientific correspondence arranged chronologically and references and appointments. The principal alphabetical sequence includes extended exchanges with a number of friends, colleagues and former students including J.D. Abbatt and E.D. Allen-Price, concerning radioactivity in water supplies in West Devon, G.D.H. Bell, concerning collaborative research into mutations in plants, G.C. de Hevesy, a friend of Mitchell's from the 1940s, H. Langendorff, Director of the Radiological Institute at Freiburg University to which Mitchell was a frequent visitor, E. Marsden, concerning soil radioactivity, E.E. Pochin, who shared Mitchell's interest in radiological protection, and G. Stein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Also included here is correspondence and lectures material of C.L. Smith, Assistant Director of Research in the Radiotherapeutic Centre, some of whose papers were inherited by Mitchell on his death.


Compiled by Timothy E. Powell and Peter Harper


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Biochemical Society


The British Library


British Petroleum plc


The Geological Society


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Royal Society of Chemistry


The Society of Chemical Industry


The Wellcome Trust


We are very grateful to Miss M.J. Crichton, Mitchell's secretary 1954-76 and 1983-87, for her invaluable assistance in preparing the papers for transport to Bath and for her advice and encouragement.

Date: 1924 - 1988
Held by: Cambridge University Library: Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Mitchell, Joseph Stanley, 1909-1987, scientist and cancer researcher

Physical description: 146 boxes
Access conditions:








Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received in September 1987 and July and November 1988 from the estate of Professor J.S. Mitchell.

Administrative / biographical background:

Joseph Stanley Mitchell was born in Birmingham on 22 July 1909. He was educated at local schools until the age of 12 when he won a scholarship to the King Edward VI High School. In 1926 Mitchell won a State Scholarship to Birmingham University and in 1928 an Entrance Scholarship to St John's College Cambridge. He took a First Class in each part of the Natural Sciences Tripos, specialising in physics in Part II. He had decided on a career in medicine at an early age and therefore also took the examinations in pre-clinical subjects which would allow him to take the Cambridge MB and BChir after completing his postgraduate clinical training. Mitchell returned to Birmingham in 1931 for this training. He was awarded the Cambridge MB and BChir in 1934 and after a period as house physician at the General Hospital, Birmingham, began research for his PhD on the irradiation of thin protein films under E.K. Rideal at the Colloid Science Laboratory at Cambridge. Mitchell was awarded his PhD in 1937. He was then elected to a Research Fellowship at St John's College.


In 1938 Mitchell began his first clinical work in radiotherapy, initially as Resident Radiological Officer at the Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute, Manchester, then as Assistant in Research in Radiotherapy in the Cambridge University Department of Medicine. This post was made permanent in 1943 with the opening of a Radiotherapeutic Centre at Addenbrooke's Hospital.


In 1944, at the request of J.D. Cockcroft, Mitchell joined the British and Canadian Atomic Energy Project at Chalk River, Canada. He was asked to investigate radiobiological hazards to those working with radiations and to direct the Project's medical programme. At the end of 1945 Mitchell returned to Cambridge to take up the Chair in Radiotherapeutics within the newly established School of Clinical Research and Postgraduate Teaching, and the Directorship of the Radiotherapeutic Centre at Addenbrooke's Hospital which had been set up in 1943.


In 1957 Mitchell succeeded Sir Lionel Whitby as Regius Professor of Physic. Despite the onerous administrative duties this imposed he remained active as Director of the Radiotherapeutic Centre and continued his full-time research in the Department of Radiotherapeutics, of which he also remained head. As Regius Professor Mitchell was instrumental in building up the School of Clinical Research and Postgraduate Teaching. He also argued for the establishment in Cambridge of a complementary pre-graduate clinical school in order that Cambridge medical students should not have to go to London teaching hospitals to receive their clinical training. His efforts were rewarded when in 1968 the Royal Commission on Medical Education recommended that a clinical school be established at Cambridge, largely on the basis of the strength of the existing Medical School. The School of Clinical Medicine opened its doors to students in 1976. Mitchell resigned from the Regius Chair a year early in 1975 to allow his successor W.J.H. (later Sir John) Butterfield to preside over the new School from the start and resumed his Professorship of Radiotherapeutics for a year. After retirement from the Chair Mitchell continued work, supported by funds from the Professor J.S. Mitchell Cancer Research Fund, and was an active researcher until his death in 1987.


Among the honours accorded to Mitchell were the CBE in 1951, election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1952 (serving on Council 1955-57) and an Honorary D.Sc. from Birmingham University in 1958. He delivered the Dunham Lectures at Harvard University and the Withering Lectures at Birmingham University in 1958, the Silvanus Thompson Lecture at the Royal Institute of Radiology in 1968 and the Linacre Lecture at St John's College Cambridge in 1970. In 1967 Mitchell received the Pirogoff Medal of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians. Radiology and Surgery and a Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy in 1974.


Mitchell's early research was carried out at the Colloid Science Laboratory under Rideal on the biophysics of protein monolayers. From the late 1930s he began to investigate ionising radiations, his first paper on this subject being published in 1940 ('Wave length effect in the reaction of human skin to x- and gamma-radiation', Nature, Lond. 145, 105-107). On his move to Chalk River in 1944 to assist the British and Canadian Atomic Energy Project Mitchell began to study the biological effects of fast and thermal neutrons. His interest in this area led to his service on a number of Medical Research Council, Ministry of Supply and Ministry of Health committees which continued after his active research into biological effects of fast and thermal neutrons had ceased. While in Canada Mitchell also made one of his most significant contributions to cancer research - the recommendation (with J.V. Dunworth) that the radioisotope cobalt-60 was suitable for use in radiotherapy.


On his return to Cambridge and his appointment to the Chair of Radiotherapeutics Mitchell's research concentrated on attempts to develop radiotherapeutic techniques to cure cancer. In 1946 he began to investigate the use of radiosensitising drugs as anti-cancer agents. It appeared that certain drugs concentrated in malignant cells and rendered them more sensitive to ionising radiations. Mitchell's team found that synkavit, menadiol sodium diphosphate, seemed effective against certain tumours and clinical trials began in 1952. Mitchell then began work on the development of a radioactive drug by modifying the radiosensitising drug to enable it to carry its own source of radiation to the malignant tissue. The radiation source selected was tritium and trials with tritiated synkavit were started in 1959 and continued into the 1970s. The next step was to investigate whether an isotope more effective than tritium could be found and Mitchell was studying this at his death.


In 1946 Mitchell and his colleague L.H. Gray had prepared a paper for the Medical Research Council on the radiotherapeutic use of high energy beta and gamma radiations. In 1949 Mitchell's Department of Radiotherapeutics received one of the two 30 Mev synchrotrons funded by the Medical Research Council. Although the machine was not used to treat as many patients as was hoped, the synchrotron gave Mitchell and his team valuable experience of the effectiveness of high energy radiations. Later Mitchell pioneered the use of randomised trials to assess the efficacy of different kinds of treatment. The King's College Hospital London - Addenbrooke's Hospital Cambridge Breast Trial of therapy for 'early' breast cancer, which Mitchell helped organise, was one of the first of its kind and led the way to larger scale trials which have significantly improved the treatment of this form of cancer. Mitchell was also among the first to consider the part that psychological factors might play in the treatment of cancer.

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research