Wistar Institute

Philadelphia, United States of America

America's first non-profit independent research institution, the Wistar Institute played an important role in the development of monoclonal antibodies and is today renowned for its cancer research and vaccine development.

Connections Hilary Koprowski

Click on the image to see a slide show exploring the work of scientists at Wistar Institute.

The roots of the Wistar Institute go back to work of the physician Caspar Wistar, who from the early late 18th century started building up a collection of anatomical human specimens at the University of Philadelphia for teaching purposes and anatomical research. After Wistar's death the physicians William Edmonds Horner and Joseph Leidy continued to add to this collection. During the late 1880s a campaign was mounted to transfer the collection to new premises with the aim of creating an institution to further research in the biological and medical sciences.

The Wistar Institute officially opened in 1892, supported by funds from Colonel Isaac Wistar, the great nephew of Caspar Wistar. It was the first independent medical research institute established in the United States.

In 1906 the Wistar developed and bred the Wistar rat, the first standardised laboratory animal. Over half of all laboratory rats in use today are thought to descend from this breed. By 1925 the Institute had built a sold reputation in biology and was recognised internationally as a training ground for young scientists.

From the 1950s, under the leadership of the Polish virologist Hilary Koprowski, the Wistar Institute started to gain international recognition for its vaccine development and cancer research. In 1979 the Wistar gained worldwide attention for the fact that its scientists had been granted the first patent on monoclonal antibodies, a technology that would be at the forefront of the biotechnology revolution.

Today the Wistar Institute has more than 29 laboratories grouped around three research areas: gene expression and regulation, immunology and molecular and cellular oncogenesis. Multi-disciplinary in its approach, the focus of the Institute is to investigate all types of cancers as well as viral and autoimmune diseases.

Wistar Institute: timeline of key events

Date Event People Places
September 13, 1761Caspar Wistar was born in PhiladelphiaWistar Institute
1783Caspar Wistar received his Batchelor of Medicine from the University of PennsylvaniaWistar Institute
1786Caspar Wistar received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of EdinburghWistar Institute
1787Caspar Wistar appointed physician to the Philadelphia Dispensary, elected to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and to the American Philosophical SocietyWistar Institute
1793Caspar Wistar became staff member of the Pennsylvania Hospital and elected curator of the American Philosophical SocietyWistar Institute
1808Caspar Wistar appointed sole professor of anatomy, midwifery and surgery at the University of PennsylvaniaWistar Institute
1811 - 1814Caspar Wistar published his two volumes of 'A System of Anatomy for the Use of Students of Medicine', the first American anatomy textbookWistar Institute
January 22, 1818Caspar Wistar diedWistar Institute
1892Establishment of the Wistar InstituteWistar Institute
1894Opening of new building for the Wistar Institute designed to house its museum of anatonmical models and foster researchWistar Institute
1905Research made the principle objective of the Wistar InstituteWistar Institute
1906Creation of the first standardised animal model for research - the WistarRatWistar Institute
1932Stanley Plotkin born in New York City, USAPlotkinWistar Institute
1952Stanley Plotkin graduated from New York UniversityPlotkinWistar Institute
1957Hilary Koprowski appointed fifth director of the Wistar InstituteKoprowskiWistar Institute
1957Stanley Plotkin assigned to work temporarily at Wistar Institute by CDC of US Public Health ServicePlotkinWistar Institute
1961Normal cell population discovered to only be able to divide a limited number of times before it stopsHayflickWistar Institute
1962WI-38 cell line developed - important to development of vaccinesHayflick, MoorheadWistar Institute
1969Splenic fragment technique devised for growing antibodiesKlinmanWistar Institute
1969 - 1970First license approved in US and Europe for vaccine against rubella (German measles)PlotkinWistar Institute
1972Wistar Instute named National Cancer Institute - first research institution to gain such a titleWistar Institute
1975Short-lasting antibodies against influenza virus devisedGerhardWistar Institute
September 1976Cesar Milstein supplies myeloma cells to Hilary Koprowski at the Wistar Institute for producing monoclonal antibodiesKoprowski, MilsteinLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Wistar Institute
June 1977First US patent application filed for monoclonal antibodiesCroce, Koprowski, MilsteinWistar Institute
May 1979Centocor foundedKoprowski, Schoemaker, WallWistar Institute
October 1979First US patent for monoclonal antibodies grantedKoprowski, MilsteinWistar Institute
1980US licensed first rabies vaccine for human useKoprowski, Plotkin, WiktorWistar Institute
December 1980Clinical tials begin with a monoclonal antibody for the treatment of gastrointestinal cancerKoprowskiWistar Institute
September 1989Giorgio Trinchieri and colleagues identified interleukin-12 (IL-12), a cytokine that helps regulate the body’s resistance to infections and cancerKobayashi, Fitz, Ryan, Hewick, Clark, Chan, Loudon, Sherman, Perussia, TrinchieriWistar Institute
1993Wistar Institute patented Bcl-2, the first of a family of genes associated with different types of cancerWistar Institute
1995First monoclonal antibody therapeutic for cancer approved for marketKoprowskiWistar Institute, Centocor
1995US licensed first wildlife rabies vaccineWistar Institute
March 2001Mechanism uncovered for the way the immune system generates regulatory T-cellsJordanWistar Institute
April 2002Identification of new enzyme for silencing certain genes, opening new avenues for cancer treatmentsRauscherWistar Institute
August 7, 2002Scientists identified segment of insect-derived antimicrobial peptide called pyrrhocoricin necessary for killing off bacteria opening up possible avenue for developing new antibioticsOtvosWistar Institute
August 20, 2002Link identified between genes responsible for neurofibromatosis, a common neurological disorder, and a protein thought to play role in Alzheimer's diseaseShiekhattarWistar Institute
September 14, 2002Regulatory T cells discovered to restrain cytolytic T cells attacking cancer via messanger chemical called TGF-betaHerlyn, SomasundaramWistar Institute
April 2004US FDA approved new imaging agent for detecting difficult to diagnose cases of appendicitisWistar Institute, Palatin Technologies
May 2004Study published demonstrating feasibility of using insect-derived antimicrobial peptice as drug-delivery vehicle OtvosWistar Institute
February 2005Enzyme Ubp10 demonstrated to protect the genome from potential destabilising molecular eventsBerger, EmreWistar Institute
2006Vaccine approved for preventing rotavirus, a major kiler of children Plotkin, Clark, OffitWistar Institute
November 15, 2006New enzyme identified as suppressor of p53 protein, a key molecule for controlling cancer in humansBergerWistar Institute, Vienna Biocenter
November 13, 2007Inappropriate activation of telomerase, an enzyme, shown to be associated with uncontrollable proliferation of cells seen in human cancersSkordalakesWistar Institute
2008Structure of telomerase, an enzyme that conserves the ends of chomosomes, was decodedWistar Institute
January 31, 2008New vaccine delivery system unveiled for preventing viral diseasesErtlWistar Institute
June 23, 2016FDA approved first clinical trial for zika virus vaccineWeinerWistar Institute, University of Pennsylvania, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, GeneOne Life Science, Public Health Agency of Canada
August 2016Marker identified for myeloid-derived suppressor cells, a type of cell associated with tumour resistance to certain cancer treatmentsWistar Institute

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