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Sittingbourne scientist, John Cornford, won Nobel prize for chemistry

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Professor Brian Beechey who is organising a reunion of scientists who worked Milstead Laboratories, Sittingbourne
Professor Brian Beechey who is organising a reunion of scientists who worked Milstead Laboratories, Sittingbourne

A small building in rural Sittingbourne once housed a team of top scientists whose groundbreaking research helped bring vital medicines to the market.

The Milstead Laboratory of Chemical Enzymology at Shell Research, Sittingbourne, was established by Lord Victor Rothschild in 1963 and its team of just 12 scientists were to make some incredible discoveries.

John Cornford, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1975, worked with co-director George Popjack, on a study of how cholesterol was made in living tissues.

This knowledge led to the design of molecules that lowered the amount of cholesterol the body makes – and eventually to the development of statins – the cholesterol-busting drugs that are now widely used across the world.

Professor Brian Beechey, who was one of the original Milsted scientists, is organising a reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the laboratories, at the site where Kent Science Park now stands.

He recalls: “The scientists were in buildings with hop fields on one side and shared the site with a nearby farm where we could see cows coming in for milking.

“Yet there was world-class science going on in a sleepy part of Sittingbourne. It really was an exciting time when science and industry were coming together to solve problems and a happy place to work.”

Prof Beechey has particular praise for the lab technicians who turned the lathes, worked on electronics and carried out their own experiments.

He said: “One truly outstanding aspect of the staff was the technicians; to say that their talents were unbelievably multifunctional is not an exaggeration.”

The Milstead laboratory was the smallest of four at the Woodstock Agricultural Research Centre in Sittingbourne.

The work of the other laboratories resulted in the development of commercially successful biocides and improved food production.

The reunion is on Wednesday, May 8, at Kent Science Park. It starts at midday and for more information contact Prof Beechey atrbeechey@liv.ac.uk

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