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Curiosity & Collaboration:
The Work of Michael Potter
(1924–2013)

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Esso Standard Oil Company Bayol F Drum, c. 1960

13.0017.008

Donated by Dr. Beverly Mock

This barrel of mineral oil was used by Dr. Michael Potter to induce plasma cell tumors in mice.

Esso oil can

Donated by Dr. Beverly Mock

Potter wanted to study plasma cell tumors because each tumor makes one kind of immunoglobulin, an antibody that helps the body fight off infection and cancer. Before he could do that, however, he needed a way to induce the tumors to grow. Potter’s colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, Ruth Merwin and Glenn Algire, discovered that implanting diffusion chambers containing breast cancer cells into mice induced plasma cell tumors. Merwin then showed that plastic rings or shavings alone could induce the tumors. Luckily, they had used BALB/c mice, one of the rare inbred mouse strains that are susceptible to developing plasma cell tumors.

Potter now had the mice that would grow plasma cell tumors, but implanting plastic to induce the tumors was not ideal. Potter began working with Dr. Rose Lieberman from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who had found that mice injected Freund’s adjuvant, made with mineral oil and antigens, produced large quantities of immunoglobulins. Potter and Lieberman struck a deal: he would do the pathology studies, if she would inject his BALB/c mice with Freund’s adjuvant.

But which component in the Freund’s adjuvant caused the plasma cell tumors? By 1962, Potter and Charlotte Robertson Boyce had tested each component of the adjuvant and found that mineral oil alone could induce transplantable plasma cell tumors.

Read Potter and Boyce’s paper “Development of Plasma-Cell Neoplasms in BALB/c Mice After Intraperitoneal Injection of Paraffin-Oil Adjuvant, Heat-Killed Staphylococcus Mixtures,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 25(4), October 1960, pp. 847-861.

This barrel of mineral oil was used by Dr. Michael Potter to induce plasma cell tumors in mice.

front of Esso oil can

Donated by Dr. Beverly Mock

left side of Esso oil can

Donated by Dr. Beverly Mock

top of Esso oil can

Donated by Dr. Beverly Mock

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