Georges J. F. Köhler, Ph.D.

Georges J. F. Köhler

 Brief Bio

Georges Jean Franz Köhler was born on April 17, 1946, in Munich, Germany. He received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Freiburg in 1974 before accepting a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Milstein's lab at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. In 1976, Köhler moved to Switzerland where he continued his research at the Basel Institute for Immunology, returning to Germany in 1985 as director of the Max Planck Institute for Immune Biology in Freiburg.

Köhler was only 28 when he devised the hybridoma technique with César Milstein. Although he designed and carried out the experiment, his stature was often overshadowed by that of Milstein, already a renowned immunologist. The significance of his role in developing hybridomas was fully recognized only as recently as 1984 when he received both the Lasker Award and Nobel Prize with Milstein. A quiet, modest man, Köhler never objected to Milstein's greater prominence. In a 1981 memorandum describing his role in the development of the technique, he wrote, "I believe I was the driving force in it, but it is also true to say that I would not have thought about this problem in any other laboratory than César Milstein's and I wouldn't have been encouraged to do the experiment by anyone else but César Milstein."

Köhler died of a heart attack on March 1, 1995, in Freiburg, Germany. He was 48.

 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

1984 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with César Milstein (AAI '79) and Niels Jerne (AAI '73) “for theories concerning the specificity in development and control of the immune system and the discovery of the principle for production of monoclonal antibodies.”

 Lasker Award

1984 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award “for his imaginative concepts and painstaking experiments which produced the first hybridoma and made possible monoclonal antibody technology.” Click here for more details.

 AAI Service History

Joined: 1985

 Nobel Prize in Science

Georges J. F. Köhler was awarded the 1984 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, jointly with his mentor, César Milstein (AAI '79), and the famed theoretician in immunology, Niels Jerne (AAI '73). Milstein and Köhler were given the award for developing the hybridoma technique for producing monoclonal antibodies.

Before Köhler and Milstein developed the hybridoma technique in 1974, scientists could not efficiently produce specific antibodies because of the difficulty of cultivating plasma cells in the laboratory. Tumor cells, on the other hand, were more amenable to continuous culture: by the mid-1960s, Michael Potter had demonstrated that malignant plasma cells, called myelomas, could replicate and produce immunoglobulins indefinitely in culture. Köhler hypothesized that it might be possible to create a hybrid cell by fusing spleen cells to myelomas. With Milstein's encouragement, Köhler carried out this fusion experiment and created the first hybridomas. Each hybridoma had the proliferative capability of the myeloma cell but was able to produce an antibody clone originating from the spleen cell. In short, Köhler had discovered a method of creating immortalized cell lines with an unlimited capacity to produce a specific monoclonal antibody.

Köhler continued to refine his method of producing monoclonal antibodies throughout his career. He went on to identify myelomas that would allow for the production of antibody clones originating from only the spleen cell with which it was fused, describing one such cell line, Sp2/0-Ag14, in 1978. In the 1980s and 1990s, while at the Max Planck Institute, he expanded his studies to elucidate mechanisms of immunoglobulin expression and B cell development, and he also explored the effects of cytokines on immune responses through the development of various knockout mice.

"Since Dr. Köhler and Dr. Milstein first described their method of making monoclonal antibodies, every area of biomedical investigation has benefited," announced the jury that awarded the immunologists the 1984 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Monoclonal antibodies have enabled researchers to characterize previously unknown types of lymphocytes; refine tests for infectious diseases; elucidate the mechanisms behind thyroid disorders, autoimmune diseases, and inherited brain disorders; reduce drug toxicity; identify metastasized cancer in the body; and suppress rejection in organ transplants.

 Awards and Honors

  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1984
  • Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, 1984

 Institutional/Biographical Links