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Laboratory at UI plays major role in diagnosing cancer

The unique laboratory of Dr. David R. Soll at the University of Iowa is making a big footprint in the field of cancer research, thanks to a new agreement reached between Soll and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The NCI and its $104 million Clinical Proteomics Technologies Initiative for Cancer ( recently selected the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank (DSHB) as the worldwide distributor of cancer-fighting proteins, called monoclonal antibodies, and the specialized cells, called hybridomas, that produce them. The DSHB was moved in 1995 from Johns Hopkins University to the laboratory of Dr. David R. Soll, Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver/Emil Witschi Professor in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Biological Sciences.

The NCI initiative involves five teams of scientists from around the world targeting approximately 1,500 protein-based features that directly or indirectly are involved in cancer. Soll says that in the war on cancer, what has been missing is a complete repertoire of monoclonal antibodies for diagnostics and therapy against the proteins encoded by the 5,000 genes affecting human cancers. Soll explained that the antibodies will be used to advance basic cancer research, develop new and desperately needed diagnostics, and explore antibody therapy. The antibodies developed and distributed through this NCI initiative will be available to the larger scientific community.

Soll adds that on an international scale, the DSHB has grown in the last 10 years to become one of the best known facilities housed at the UI, with more than 60,000 customers worldwide using the nonprofit bank.

"The impact of the NCI initiative is expected to be quite large, and the new collaboration places the DSHB as the key distributor of both monoclonal antibodies and the immortal hybridoma cell lines that secrete them," Soll says. "Roughly 20,000 monoclonals will be developed for distribution, approximately four per target protein. If successful, the NCI and other NIH institutes will seek funds to generate hybridomas secreting antibodies against every protein coded for -- more than 25,000 -- in the human genome."

Soll says that the reason for the success of the DSHB is low cost and reliability, achieved through proprietary methods of production and distribution that he and his staff have developed over the last 12 years. The NIH created the DSHB in 1986 at Johns Hopkins University, with a subcontract to the late Michael Solursh at the UI. In 1995 Soll negotiated transfer of the entire bank to his lab at the UI. The DSHB was designed to distribute hybridomas and monoclonal antibodies at cost to developmental biologists to advance research. Since moving to Soll's laboratory in 1995, where it became self-supporting in six months, the collection has increased three-fold and the number of filled requests has increased by 700 percent to more than 800 per month, while the prices have remained stable at roughly one-tenth commercial fees.

"My intention was, and still is, to keep the price of monoclonals low so that researchers can test multiple monoclonals without commitment of significant funds," Soll says. "A second intent is to relieve scientists of the time and expense of distributing monoclonals they have developed. A third intent is to assure the scientific community that monoclonals with limited demand still remain available. I have strived over these many years to expand the DSHB and remain true to its mission."

Hybridomas, the stock and trade of the bank, are cells that produce unique antibodies that bind to specific molecules, making them extraordinarily powerful tools for scientists. Monoclonals are increasingly being used as diagnostics for cancer and other diseases, and are emerging as powerful, but highly expensive, therapeutic drugs. Under Soll's direction, the DSHB has become one of the largest nonprofit resources in the world for supplying researchers with monoclonal antibodies necessary for the study of embryos, neurobiology, white blood cells and many human diseases. In its new role, the DSHB will play a major part in the NCI initiative for diagnosing and curing cancers.


Contact: Gary Galluzzo
University of Iowa

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