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The immuassay handbook parte2

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  • 1. ix Rosalyn Yalow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1977, for the development of radioimmunoassay of peptide hormones. This Foreword was written for the second edition in 1999. While some of my girlfriends aspired to be movie stars, my great inspiration was Marie Curie. She set a wonderful example to all women scientists. Throughout my life I have been passionate about science and felt the need for women to be treated equally to men, in science and in soci- ety as a whole. I still believe in the value of science as a powerful and positive influence for society. But over the years I have realized that great science is rare. Where it occurs, it should be cherished and nurtured. Some readers may have assumed that I was a biologist or medical researcher but I was neither. I graduated in Phys- ics in the College of Engineering in New York, not far from my home in the North Bronx, where I was raised as a child and still live. I was the first woman to take this course since World War I. There was a shortage of male students when I joined in September 1941; otherwise I doubt I would have been accepted as a mere woman! I received my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and returned to work at the Veterans Administration Hos- pital near my home in 1947. More than 50 years later, I still work there for a few hours every day. My collaborator, the late Solomon Berson, was a resident at the hospital in July 1950. He was a brilliant registrar. He was very good at mathematics and loved mathematical puzzles. The discovery of immunoassay was part mathe- matics, part physics, and part biology. I learned about biol- ogy from Sol, and he learned about physics from me. I believe that most scientific breakthroughs come out of painstaking research and experimentation; these are neces- sary precursors of those rare flashes of inspiration. But then, the most exciting new ideas can take a scientist into unexpected new territory. We were working on a medical problem involving diabetes, not trying to discover a new assay technique, but after we did, it became a tool that was used to investigate medical problems in a range of differ- ent fields much wider than we could ever have imagined. Sol and I were investigating the suggestion of Dr I. Arthur Mirsky that maturity-onset diabetes might be due to excessive enzymic degradation of insulin, rather than an absolute deficiency of insulin secretion, which was the pre- vailing theory at the time. We administered 131I-insulin to diabetic and nondiabetic subjects and observed a slower rate of disappearance of the labeled insulin from patients who had been treated with insulin, whether or not they were diabetic. We wondered whether antibodies had developed to the animal-derived insulin, changing the rate of disappearance. We used separation methods to prove that the protein that bound insulin in the treated patients was an antibody. This was something that immunologists could not accept at the time and our paper was rejected by Science and initially by the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The aim of science is to make new discoveries, so it is ironic that data that only confirm what is already thought is more likely to be published and that new discoveries are often unwelcome to the scientific community. At my age I can say what I think and not worry about the conse- quences. Come to think of it, that’s how I have always been and it is a necessary personality trait for a good scientist! It is amazing that insulin had been given to patients since 1920, yet no one had realized that there was an immune reaction to it before. At the time, that was the discovery we thought was the most significant because of its medical application, and immunoassay was very much a spin-off. We devised the principle of radioimmunoassay in 1956, but it took a couple of years to get it to work. We published our first paper describing the immunoassay technique in 1959, but research papers that we published in the preced- ing 2 years hint of our development work. The idea did not come in a flash of inspiration, but was the result of pains- taking scientific method. We called the technique immuno- assay, then radioimmunoassay, which is logical enough, but I have to admit it has given people problems over the years as it is rather a tongue twister. It quickly became RIA. I should have learned from Marie Curie that a simple name like x-ray would be easier to say and remember! I am sometimes asked if I regret that we did not patent the principle of immunoassay. Not only do I not regret it, but I felt very strongly that we, as scientists, should not seek to exploit our scientific discoveries for our own finan- cial gain. We realized that our new technique could have widespread applications, so we organized classes every year and invited scientists from all over the world to come and learn about our discovery, and how to develop their own assays. This may help to explain why the technique quickly spread to different analytes and many countries and why so many companies eventually manufactured immunoassays. I feel the same way about commercial links with manu- facturers. I have declined lucrative offers to act as a paid consultant for immunoassay companies. How could I have retained my scientific integrity otherwise? I had a wonderful time as a scientist. We had just a small laboratory, and nobody bothered us. I had to build upon my academic education, learning about medicine, so that I could make a useful contribution to scientific knowledge, then later on we had to set up educational courses to pass on what we had learned. This is how good science should be carried out and communicated. I believe that we were successful because we always worked at the laboratory bench and were only interested in discovering the truth. I did not stop working at the bench until 1970, and I still carry out scientific research from my desk for a few hours every day. Over the years I carried out research into Foreword
  • 2. x Foreword glycoprotein heterogeneity and developed one of the first assays for Hepatitis B. Recently I have been studying the effects of radioactivity on the environment. Of 10 women Nobel Prize winners in Science at the time of writing, I was the only one from an uneducated family. By coincidence one of the others, Gertrude Elian, also graduated from Hunter College in Manhattan. I am immensely proud of my work with Sol. I hope that does not sound arrogant. But I was lucky enough to see our hard work amply rewarded by tangible results. I like to think that Marie Curie would have been proud of me had she known of my work. Perhaps she and Sol are having heated debates about a controversial new theory as I write this now. If so, there is indeed a heaven. Rosalyn Yalow (1921–2011)