A Bloody Measure

In search of tiny amounts of antibodies, medical physicist Rosalyn Yalow developed a technique that came up very big for biomedical researchers. Today is the 78th birthday of the Nobel laureate who co-developed the radioimmunoassay, a technique used widely to measure small amounts of substances in blood or other biological fluids.

In the 1950s Yalow and her physician co-worker, Solomon Berson, discovered new ways to use radioactive isotopes to study physiology. While investigating adult-onset diabetes, they found evidence that diabetics being treated with animal insulin developed antibodies against the foreign protein, which was believed to be too small to elicit such an immune response.

To verify their finding, Yalow and Berman developed the radioimmunoassay to detect insulin antibodies at minute concentrations. For this work, Yalow shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Andrew Schally and Roger Guillemin, who used the radioimmunoassay to make breakthroughs in understanding brain hormones.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995).]