Cesar Milstein

Born 8th October, 1927 (Bahia Blanca, Argentina)

Together with Georges Kohler, Milstein developed the first unlimited supply of monoclonal antibodies, which today underpin many diagnostics and therapeutics. Milstein is the subject of an exclusive exhibition kindly supported by the Medical Research Council. Please go to this page to view the exhibition.

Photo credit: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Family Milstein was the middle son of three boys born to a Jewish immigrant father who came to Argentina from the Ukraine and an Argentinian mother who was the daughter of immigrants from the Ukraine. His father had started life as a farm labourer and then had become a travelling salesman, while his mother had begun her career teaching and rapidly rose to become a headmistress. During his childhood Milstein became fascinated in science when he read of the adventures in The Microbe Hunters by de Kruif and heard stories from his older cousin trying to develop a vaccine for snake venom. In 1953 Milstein married fellow chemistry graduate Celia Prilleltensky.

Education In his early years Milstein attended schools in his hometown, Bahia Blanca, including Colegio Nacional. His last year of schooling was spent in Buenos Aires to prepare for university. Milstein completed a chemistry degree in 1952 and a biochemistry doctorate in 1958 at the University of Buenos Aires. Funding his studies by working part-time and undertaking research with only the most basic of equipment, Milstein came close to abandoning his doctorate when to his horror on making an enzyme preparation he broke three of the five expensive flasks in his department. He completed this doctorate in 1957. In 1958 Milstein was awarded a British Council fellowship to study at the University of Cambridge, which resulted in a second doctorate in biochemistry.

Career In 1961 Milstein took up a prearranged appointment as head of a new Department of Molecular Biology at the National Institute of Microbiology in Argentina, a pioneering institue in Latin America with an infrastructure and scientific base that matched other research institutes in the United States and France. With his work in Argentina thrown into disarray by the political turmoil of a military coup in 1962 Milstein returned to Cambridge in 1963 to work in the newly established Laboratory of Molecular Biology. This move marked a shift in research from enzymes to what would become a lifelong study of the formation and diversity of antibodies. In 1983 Milstein was appointed Head of the Division of Proteins and Nucleic Acids at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. From 1988 to 1995 Milstein was Deputy Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. In 1987 Milstein was declared Honoary Citizen of the City of Bahia Blanca and received an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Nacional del Sur.

Achievements Milstein was important in advancing the knowledge of antibodies, notably their structure, expression and diversity. In 1984 he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his development, with Georges Kohler, of monoclonal antibodies in 1975. Developed originally as a tool for basic research, monoclonal antibodies opened up new frontiers in diagnostics and therapeutics for over 50 major diseases. Milstein was at the forefront of showing the applications of monoclonal antibodies for automated cell fractionation, studying cell surfaces, tumours, neuropharmacology, typing blood and tissue for blood transfusion and organ transplants, and laying the groundwork for many current blockbuster drugs.

Milstein is the subject of an exclusive exhibition kindly supported by the Medical Research Council. Please go to this page to view the exhibition.

Cesar Milstein: timeline of key events

Date Event People Places
October 8, 1927Cesar Milstein was born in Bahia Blanca, ArgentinaMilsteinBahia Blanca, Argentina
1945 - 1952Cesar Milstein studies for a chemistry degreeMilsteinUniversity of Buenos Aires
1954 - 1958Cesar Milstein pursues his first doctorate in biochemistryMilstein, StoppaniUniversity of Buenos Aires
1957The Associacion Quimica Argentina awards Milstein a prize for the best doctoral thesis in chemistry that yearMilsteinUniversity of Buenos Aires
1957 - 1959Cesar Milstein publishes papers from his doctorate with his supervisor Andres StoppaniMilsteinUniversity of Buenos Aires
1958 - 1961Cesar Milstein takes up a British Council Scholarship at Cambridge UniversityMilstein, Dixon, WebbSir William Dunn School of Pathology
1961Cesar Milstein is awarded a second doctorate in biochemistry at Cambridge UniversityMilsteinSir William Dunn School of Pathology
1961Cesar Milstein takes up a position at the Instituto Malbran, Buenos AiresMilsteinInstituto Malbran
1962An Argentinian military coup throws Cesar Milstein's academic work into disarrayMilsteinInstituto Malbran
1963Cesar Milstein returns to Cambridge and begins researching the structure and diversity of antibodiesMilstein, SangerLaboratory of Molecular Biology
1964Cesar Milstein publishes his first paper on antibodiesMilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
July 1966Cesar Milstein and Sydney Brenner publish theory attributing antibody diversity to somatic mutationBrenner, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
July 1970Cesar Milstein launches experiments to determine whether somatic mutation underlies antibody diversityCotton, Milstein, SecherLaboratory of Molecular Biology
1973Cesar Milstein meets Georges Kohler at the Basel Institute of ImmunologyKohler, MilsteinBasel Institute of Immunology
July 1973Cesar Milstein and Dick Cotton report the successful fusion of two different myeloma cell lines, one from a mouse and the other from a ratCotton, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
June 1974Georges Kohler joins Cesar Milstein's research team to investigate somatic mutation and antibody diversityKohler, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
January 1975Unlimited long-surviving monoclonal antibodies createdMilstein, KohlerLaboratory of Molecular Biology
1975 - 1979First monoclonal antibody created to target a neurotransmitter peptideMilstein, CuelloLaboratory of Molecular Biology, MRC Neurochemical Pharmacology Unit, Oxford University
August 1975First step taken to patent Kohler and Milstein's monoclonal antibodiesMilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
August 7, 1975Cesar Milstein and Georges Kohler publish a paper outlining a technique for producing limitless monoclonal antibodiesKohler, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
September 1976Cesar Milstein supplies myeloma cells to Hilary Koprowski at the Wistar Institute for producing monoclonal antibodiesKoprowski, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Wistar Institute
October 1976British government declines to patent monoclonal antibodiesMilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
1977Monoclonal antibodies developed for automatic fluorescence-activated cell sorter Milstein, Herzenberg, OiLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Stanford University Medical School, University of Toronto
February 1977Partnership begun for first commercial distribution of cells for producing monoclonal antibodiesMilstein, Murray
1977Monoclonals produced against histocompatibility antigensMilstein, Galfre, HowardLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Brabraham Institute
June 1977First US patent application filed for monoclonal antibodiesCroce, Koprowski, MilsteinWistar Institute
1977Monoclonal antibodies made to unknown cell surface antigensMilstein, Galfre, WilliamsLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology
1978First monoclonal antibodies generated to human T-cellsMilstein, McMichaelLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Oxford University
1978First monoclonal antibody generated for blood typingMilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Oxford University
February 1978First commercialisation of monoclonal antibodies as laboratory reagentsMilstein, MurrayLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Sera-Lab
October 1979First US patent for monoclonal antibodies grantedKoprowski, MilsteinWistar Institute
January 1980First monoclonal antibody created to purify a human therapeutic protein.Burke, Milstein, SecherLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Warwick University
1980Cesar Milstein proposed the use of recombinant DNA to improve monoclonal antibodiesMilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology
1980British government commissioned report publically criticises non-patenting of technique for producing monoclonal antibodiesMilstein
1981First monoclonal antibodies generated for use in radioimmunoassaysCuello, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Oxford University
1982Monoclonal antibodies generated for routine use in ABO blood typingLennox, Milstein, Sacks, VoakLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Addenbrookes Hospital
1983First bispecific monoclonal antibody producedCuello, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Oxford University
March 2002Cesar Milstein diedMilsteinCambridge, England

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