Professor Sir Richard Doll was born in 1912. He graduated from St.Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in 1937 and received MD (1945) and DSc (1958) degrees from London and DM (1969) from Oxford University. In 1969, he became Regius Professor of Medicine, the most senior medical position at Oxford University. He held this position until 1979 when he became the founding Warden of Green College. He also served as Director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s Epidemiology and Clinical Trials Service Unit (CTSU) at Oxford and was an Honorary Member of CTSU.
Sir Richard Doll was one of the greatest cancer epidemiologists. His 1950 and 1951 papers with Bradford Hill were two of several papers published around that time about an association between smoking and cancer risk but only one other paper (by Wydner and Graham in the USA) was a well designed, large and persuasive study. The association was not proof of causality and many in the medical profession and the public (not to say the tobacco industry) doubted that there was a real link. Doll’s next, extraordinary contribution was to initiate a 50 year long cohort follow-up study of about 40,000 British doctors which examined cancer risk in relation to various aspects of smoking (duration in years, numbers of cigarettes, etc). The first results of that study were published in 1954; the latest in 2004, marking the exact 50th anniversary of the first publication. The study
provided indisputable evidence that cigarette smoking itself (or the tar inhaled therefore) was quantitatively linked to the risk of lung cancer and very few now dispute this. The causal link was very much endorsed by a large body of molecular biological data showing that particular chemicals in cigarette tar damage DNA and cause mutations.
For a period of more than 30 years, Sir Richard worked in collaboration with his protégé and colleague at Oxford Professor Sir Richard Peto, on both the 50 year cohort study and to document the worldwide disease burden from tobacco consumption. They showed that annual mortality worldwide from tobacco-related deaths from lung and other cancers and heart disease was truly
staggering, around 3 million and rising, with additional morbidity to other organs and the developing fetus. Their estimates of total worldwide deaths due to tobacco smoking were 100 million in the 20th century and could be up to one billion in the present century if no efforts are made to curtail smoking drastically. It is difficult to imagine a more tragic man-made health disaster. Doll and Peto preformed a huge service to mankind in uncovering these facts.
The late Sir Richard Doll brought to this field of medical research an unusual mix of his medical training with the rigor of mathematics and statistics. His persistence with a major health problem for 50 years, often in the face of hostile criticism, was unique. He received the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine just a few months before his death at the age of 93. He was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards. He was a distinguished fellow of the Royal Society and received a knighthood for his services to medicine in 1971. In 1996, he was made a Companion of Honor in recognition of his outstanding achievements.
Sir Richard Doll died in 2005 at the age of 93.
Professor Sir Richard Doll, has been awarded the prize, for his pioneering and profoundly valuable epidemiologic research that has unequivocally established the link between tobacco and various diseases, such as vascular diseases and cancers, and has, in addition, served to propagate further research elucidating the molecular mechanisms of tobacco mediated cellular damage and DNA mutations. Indeed, so great has the impact of his studies been that several national health policies have been modified as a result of these findings. The WHO itself changed its position on smoking which culminated in a demonstrable decline in deaths related to cancer and atherosclerotic vascular diseases in several developed countries. Such significant benefits have transcended to large populations of developing countries as well, proffering an immeasurable contribution to mankind.