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Lino-topped desk from the volunteers' flat at the Common Cold Research Unit, Europe, 1946-1990

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A few of the thirty thousand volunteers who passed through the Common Cold Research Unit in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, left their creative mark on this graffiti covered lino-topped desk. Opened in 1946, the Common Cold Research Unit was set up in a former military hospital to learn more about the viruses that cause the common cold. Volunteers would go to the unit and be artificially infected with various viruses in a double blind trial – a trial in which neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew what type of material was being tested until later. The volunteers were monitored for ten days. During that period they were given pocket money, three cooked meals a day and lived in a warm furnished flat with one or two others. The desk was collected from the lounge of one of the unit’s flats. Volunteers could return after six months and many did – some coming back year after year. Run by the Medical Research Council, the Common Cold Research Unit finally closed in 1989 after 43 years of coughs, sneezes and runny noses.

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Glossary: common cold

a widespread infectious virus disease causing inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose, throat, and bronchial tubes. Symptoms include a sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, headache, cough, and general malaise.

Glossary: virus

A tiny particle made up of DNA/RNA and a protein coat. Viruses infect animals, plants, and micro-organisms and cause many diseases, including the common cold, influenza, measles, chickenpox, AIDS, polio and rabies. Many viral diseases can be controlled by means of vaccines.

Glossary: desk

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