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Release: Jan. 22, 2001

Soll's worldwide cell bank had record year in 2000

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- David Soll's bank had a great year in 2000, even though it didn't earn a penny in profits.

That's a claim few banks can make, but then Soll, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Iowa, is the administrator of a rather unusual bank called the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank. Operated under the auspices of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, it is the largest facility of its kind in the world for supplying researchers with monoclonal antibodies necessary for the study of embryos, cancer, neurobiology, white blood cells and a host of human diseases.

So how does the hybridoma bank define success?

"This is truly a non-profit, benevolent system," Soll says. "Last year, we filled over 4,000 orders, our busiest year ever. We're selling monoclonal antibodies at $15 per milliliter, antibodies that would be sold for about $250 a milliliter commercially. These are antibodies that many scientists don't want to handle because it takes a lot of time to grow them. Some of the antibodies have become very popular with a lot of researchers." Soll adds that last year's sales would have generated the equivalent of between $10 million and $20 million in business at a commercial company. "During the six years since we won the federal contract, we have quadrupled the number of sales, with everything sold at cost, on an annual budget of roughly $700,000," he says.

"Internationally, the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank is one of the best-known facilities at the University of Iowa, in terms of the more than 10,000 scientists worldwide who use it," Soll says.

Initiated as a collaborative venture between the University of Iowa and Johns Hopkins University in 1986, the University of Iowa's Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank has been operated solely by the UI since1996. Today it is a virtual shopping center for researchers, allowing the UI to market antibodies to scientists around the world and, therefore, to play an important role in the international development of biological research and the exchange of information. As the stock and trade of the bank, hybridomas are cells that produce antibodies that bind to specific molecules, making them useful to scientists for a variety of studies. Working in cooperation with the facility, the Iowa Cancer Center's Hybridoma and Tissue Facility helps grow the necessary cells and provides research support.

In the years ahead, the hybridoma bank, which focuses on cell growth, plans to grow itself.

"We will try to expand the collection of hybridomas to at least 1,000, and we want to double or triple our service over the next five years," Soll says. "As people get more and more knowledgeable about the effects of genes, antibodies are becoming increasingly important for people who want to use that knowledge. If the hybridoma bank is bigger, we will better serve the general scientific community."