Smithsonian Launches Antibody Initiative Centered on Medical History Collections

Digitization Makes Historic Collection Available to the Public
October 13, 2017
News Release

Addthis Share Tools

vaccine syringe in box

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is launching the Antibody Initiative today with the unveiling of a new website that will provide scholars and the general public in-depth access to the museum’s historical antibody-related collections for the first time. The collections include early vaccines and antibody-based diagnostics, monoclonal antibody drugs and lesser-known technologies such as antivenom and allergy treatments. The site is available at


The project also includes new collecting and public programming, which will continue through the coming year. The Antibody Initiative was made possible with generous support from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, as part of their 40th-anniversary commemoration.

The museum plans unique experiences for its audiences, including an evening program centered on the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman, who was responsible for the development of more than half of the childhood vaccines routinely recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hilleman conducted his research while employed as a scientist at Merck where he served as head of the Department of Virus and Cell Biology from 1956 to 1984.

The program, “Hilleman’s Vaccines: Remembering Why We Immunize,” will feature a screening of the 2016 documentary, Hilleman—A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children, directed by Donald Mitchell. Following the film, NPR’s Jon Hamilton will moderate a panel discussion with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health; Kristen Ehresmann, M.P.H., R.N., director, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, Minnesota Department of Health; Dr. Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and the museum’s Chair of the Division of Medicine and Science Alexandra M. Lord, Ph.D.

The evening will close with a special display of the museum’s historic vaccine collections during which the audience will get an up-close look at a variety of objects, including material related to the development of the mumps vaccine, which Hilleman’s family and Merck recently donated.

In addition, museum staff will share their expertise and collections with audiences across social media channels as part of a self-proclaimed Antibody History Week, Oct. 12–20. A blog series plus daily Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts will show how medical history is deeply woven into American history and culture, promote knowledge about antibody-based technologies and link historical experiences of disease with current health issues.

The initiative is part of an expanding relationship with Genentech, and it was inspired by a growing collection of objects illustrating biotech history and a 2013 showcase exhibition called “The Birth of Biotech,” looking at the science and industry behind the first commercial product of the biotech boom—recombinant human insulin.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is continuing to renovate its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on democracy and culture. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

# # #



Media Only

Valeska Hilbig

(202) 633-3129 

(202) 309-2152

National Museum of American History
Press Office

(202) 633-3129