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1984: Dr Cesar Milstein and Dr Georges Kohler

The ability of antibodies to bind specifically to substances is very useful in medical research. Milstein and Köhler (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) suggested the idea of making monoclonal antibodies – many antibodies of the same type – in order to diagnose and treat a wide array of human diseases. They identified a way to produce antibodies by fusing an antibody-producing cell with a tumour cell. This allows unlimited production of a particular type of antibody.

Antibodies have a wide range of research and commercial applications, from treating cancer and transplant rejection to diagnosing pregnancy and AIDS. The technique has sparked an international billion-pound biotechnology industry: monoclonal antibodies are the basis of a third of all biotech products in clinical development. Milstein and Köhler received the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.