#HealthHistory Celebrating revolutionary individuals who made historical advancements in medicine

César Milstein was an immunologist who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work in the development of monoclonal antibodies.

In 1975, Milstein worked with Köhler, a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge. Together, they developed one of the most powerful tools of molecular biology: monoclonal antibody production. This technique allows researchers to construct cells that produce high quantities of identical (monoclonal) antibodies. All targeted to recognize the same antigen.

The resulting hybrid cells, called hybridomas, combine the longevity of the myeloma cell with the ability to produce a specific antibody and can produce potentially unlimited amounts of the desired antibody.

Before Milstein and Köhler developed the hybridoma technique, scientists had struggled to produce large amounts of single antibody clones because of the difficulty of growing antibody-producing B cells in culture. Milstein and Köhler’s innovative technique became a cornerstone of immunology and molecular biology research, and Milstein became one of the most highly regarded scientists of his time.

After mastering how to produce specific antibodies reliably and efficiently in culture, Milstein turned his attention to fostering the use of monoclonal antibodies as a fundamental research tool. He and his colleagues identified monoclonal antibodies that could bind to discrete cell surface markers. This development revolutionized the way different cell types could be characterized and identified and paved the way for their therapeutic use.

Milstein received the Royal Medal (1982) and the Copley Medal (1989) from the Royal Society of London. In 1983 he became head of the Protein and Nucleic Acid Chemistry Division at the Medical Research Council laboratory. In 1994 Milstein was made a Companion of Honour.

Today, monoclonal antibodies are at the cutting edge of medical research, as scientists continue to discover uses for them in both diagnostic and therapeutic venues. Monoclonal antibodies have a wide variety of clinical and research applications; for example, they are used in pregnancy tests, diagnosing viral and bacterial diseases, and blood cell and tissue typing. Monoclonal antibodies are also being used in Oncology, where researchers are developing monoclonal antibodies that can bind to tumors and facilitate their destruction. More recently, monoclonal antibodies have been used to treat high-risk COVID-19 patients.


“César Milstein, Ph.D.” The American Association of Immunologists – César Milstein, https://www.aai.org/About/History/Notable-Members/Nobel-Laureates/CesarMilstein.

“César Milstein.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cesar-Milstein.