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NIH medical researcher Michael Potter dies

Michael Potter, a scientist at the National Cancer

Michael Potter, a scientist at the National Cancer Institute whose research led to greater understanding of tumors and the immune system, and who won the prestigious Lasker Award for medical research, died June 18, 2013, at his home in Bethesda. He was 89. Newsday's obituary for Michael Potter
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Michael Potter, a scientist at the National Cancer Institute whose research led to greater understanding of tumors and the immune system and who won the prestigious Lasker Award for medical research, died June 18 at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 89.

He had acute myeloid leukemia, said his daughter, Melissa Adde Magrath.

Potter worked for more than 50 years at the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He was a principal investigator in NCI's Laboratory of Cell Biology and, for more than 20 years, was chief of the Laboratory of Genetics.

At its most basic level, Potter's research focused on plasma cells, or a form of white blood cells that produce antibodies. In the 1950s, while studying laboratory mice, Potter learned that mineral oil injected in the bodies of the mice could produce plasma cell tumors, or plasmacytomas.

"It was just game-changing research at that time," said Beverly Mock, who was Potter's successor at NCI's genetics laboratory, on Saturday.

Potter freely shared his findings -- and the strains of his mouse plasma cells -- with scientists throughout the world, who paired his plasmacytomas with other forms of tissue. In the 1970s, two scientists at the University of Cambridge in England -- Cesar Milstein and Georges Kohler -- fused cells from a mouse spleen with the plasmacytomas developed by Potter.

The new cells created from this match produced monoclonal antibodies, or antibodies of a single molecular type. The development of monoclonal antibodies is considered one of the most important advances in medical research of the 20th century.

Potter received the 1984 Lasker Award for basic medical research, presented by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation and considered second in importance only to the Nobel Prize.

Michael Potter was born Feb. 27, 1924, in East Orange, N.J. He spent much of his childhood in the shore town of Sea Girt, N.J., where he developed a lifelong love of fishing and the outdoors.

His wife of 50 years, Jeanne Ann Phalen Potter, died in 2004. A son, Michael Potter, died in 2012.

Survivors include a daughter, Melissa Adde Magrath of Rhode-St.-Genese, Belgium; a brother; three granddaughters; and a great-grandson.

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