UI research entity distributes antibodies to those studying COVID-19

The Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank housed at the University of Iowa distributes and stores antibodies for biological research.



Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

The Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank, housed at the University of Iowa, stores and distributes antibodies that now are being distributed to help researchers study the novel coronavirus.

Originally created by the National Institutes of Health 34 years ago, the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank is a self-funded entity that keeps antibodies, proteins produced by the immune system to fight viruses and diseases, for companies worldwide for basic research.

David Soll, the bank’s director, brought the entity to the UI from Johns Hopkins University. The entity sends about 60,000 samples a year worldwide for biological and cancer research, he said.

The bank sells its antibodies to researchers for $40, Soll said. None of the antibodies can be used for commercial purposes, however, as the bank doesn’t own the antibodies, it just stores them for researchers, he said.

Although it did not have antibodies specifically for COVID-19, the bank did have a large number of antibodies that react similarly to the coronavirus and could allow researchers to study the interaction between the virus and human cells, Soll said.

The antibodies the bank has can help researchers study the cytokines — proteins that are important to cell signaling — which sometimes cause the body to react violently to a virus, he said.

“We have a very large footprint inside the research community, and the way we do it is we don’t own any of the antibodies, people from all over the world bank their antibodies with us,” Soll said.

The bank also makes antibodies, Soll said. It’s currently producing plasmids and then inserting a piece of DNA into them that codes them for targeted viruses, he added.

The plasmids are injected into mice, Soll said, and then the mouse will make the proteins of the virus and then make antibodies against it.

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Diane Slusarski, UI biology department head, is a member of the Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank’s advisory board, which meets with Soll to discuss the entity’s inventory and work.

The bank provides antibodies for biomedical research and basic research at a good price, Slusarski said. This allows basic research to move forward, she said, because often the budgets aren’t very large.

The bank has accumulated a lot of antibodies over its years of operations, which makes it so they have the immune response for viruses as well as the antibodies, she said.

The immune responses can be used to understand how the body reacts to other viruses even though the bank doesn’t have coronavirus specific antibodies, Slusarski said.

Because the bank is housed at the UI, the biology department is able to give graduate students an opportunity to learn what it takes to make an antibody, Slusarski said.

“Now you’re going to have people interested in these immune [antibodies] that they have,” Slusarski said. “So they’re very strategic in looking at how we can help.”

Kevin Campbell, UI professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, keeps some of the antibodies his lab has created in the bank.

When he first started teaching at the UI, Campbell said his lab made proteins to study muscles and have been helpful in the productivity of his work, which focuses on muscle physiology and muscular dystrophy.

Campbell said the bank functions as a storage facility to prevent researchers from losing their antibodies if a freezer fails them, and the bank grows the supply of the antibody.

“The biggest [benefit] is that now you can make [the antibodies] available to everybody in the world doing research,” he said. “So that really frees you up from having to send the antibodies out to laboratories.”

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