Köhler, Georges Jean Franz (1887-1967), a German biochemist and immunologist, discovered a technique for inducing antibody-secreting B cells to produce virtually unlimited amounts of monoclonal antibodies. Köhler and his colleague, Dr. César Milstein, received the 1984 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. They shared the prize with Niels Kaj Jerne, who also researched antibodies.
Köhler was born in Munich, Germany. He received his Ph.D. degree in biology from the University of Freiburg in 1974 and then moved to Cambridge University in England to work under Dr. César Milstein. There Köhler studied antibodies, the proteins the immune system produces to ward off attacks by toxins, harmful bacteria, and other antigens.
When Köhler began his research, there was no simple, foolproof technique for producing antibodies in a laboratory. Most important, there was no way to force the development of specific antibodies to ward off antigens, or to create unlimited amounts of an antibody.
In 1974, Köhler tried infusing antibody-producing cells with tumor cells to maintain a continuous production of the antibody. His experiment was a dramatic success. This procedure, also called the hybridoma technique, had tremendous impact because it made monoclonal antibodies easily available for diagnosing and treating many deadly diseases, such as AIDS, cancer, and leukemia. Initially, however, neither Köhler nor the Medical Research Council, under whose auspices the research was done, recognized its significance, and they did not patent the procedure.
Although Köhler suggested the experiment and devised its methodology, he did so at the inspiration of Milstein. In 1984, Köhler and Milstein jointly received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Niels K. Jerne was also honored that year for research on antibodies.