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Radioimmunassay: Invaluable technique for measuring substances in the blood

August 2, 2018


Dr. Rosalyn Yalow, along with Bronx VA colleague Dr. Solomon Berson, developed the technique of radioimmunoassay, used widely in medicine to measure substances in the blood.

Radioimmunoassay is a sensitive method for measuring very small amounts of a substance in the blood. Radioactive versions of a substance, or isotopes of a substance, are mixed with antibodies and inserted in a sample of the patient’s blood. The same non-radioactive substance in the blood takes the place of the isotope in the antibodies, thus leaving the radioactive substance free. The amount of free isotope is then measured to see how much of the original substance was in the blood. Radioimmunoassay is used to measure concentrations of hormones, viruses, enzymes, and many other substances in the blood. It is widely used in medicine today.

This measuring method was developed by two VA researchers, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow (who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her work in 1977) and Dr. Solomon Berson, who died in 1972 and was not eligible for the Nobel, which is not awarded posthumously.

In their laboratories at the Bronx VA hospital (now the James J. Peters VA Medical Center), in 1956, Yalow and Berson published a paper on how the body uses insulin, and proved that Type 2 diabetes is caused by the inefficient use of insulin, instead of the lack of insulin. This paper also describes the basis for the concept of radioimmunoassay. They published their definitive report on the radioimmunoassay technique in 1960.

Principal investigators: Rosalyn Yalow, Ph.D., Solomon Berson, M.D.; Bronx VA

Selected publications:

Yalow RS, Berson SA. Immunoassay of endogenous plasma insulin in man. J Clin Invest. 1960 Jun;39(7):1157-1175.

Berson SA, Yalow RS, Bauman A, Rothschild MA, Newerly K. Insulin-I metabolism in human subjects: Demonstration of insulin binding glombulin in the circulation of insulin treated subjects. J Clin Invest. 1956;35(2):170-190.

Chapter 11. Radioimmunoassay-A revolutionary advance in medicine. In: Hays MT. A historical look at the establishment of the Department of Veterans Affairs Research & Development program. Baltimore, MD: Veterans Health Administration; 2010. pp. 249-261.

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