What is the History of Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA)?

In the last three decades, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) has become indispensable in many research fields. It has various applications, including detecting food and environmental contaminants and screening for SARS-CoV-2 and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) antibodies.

ELISA Overview

ELISA is a diagnostic tool employed to quantitatively detect an antigen, such as a toxin or foreign substance, within a sample.

Most ELISAs are run on microplates, with the base of the microplate acting as the solid surface for the attachment of an antigen of interest, either directly or through an antibody.

Researchers typically use ELISA microplate readers to read and analyze multiple plates simultaneously, ensuring accurate ELISA measurements at high throughput.

ELISA has contributed to some of our most significant scientific breakthroughs. The origin and evolution of ELISA are outlined below.

ELISA overview

Image Credit: Molecular Devices UK Ltd

ELISA Timeline

1941 – Albert H. Coons and his colleagues were the first to develop immunofluorescence techniques—that is, labeling antibodies with a fluorescent dye and using them to identify antigens in tissue sections.1

1960 – Rosalyn Sussman and Solomon Berson describe the radioimmunoassay in a scientific paper. However, a safer alternative was required, given the potential health risks associated with radioactivity.2

1971 – Eva Engvall and Peter Perlman independently developed the ELISA test—a method that revolutionized medicine. The ELISA utilizes antibodies to detect the presence of viruses or hormones.3,4

1976 – The competitive ELISA method was developed to identify the human choriogonadotropin hormone.5 This technique involves using a conjugated substrate that competes with a protein of interest.5

1977 – The sandwich ELISA method was developed and tested on numerous substrates for proof-of-concept.6 In this method, the detection antibody is coated onto the plate surface, and the protein of interest is added.6

1978 – Indirect ELISA was developed and employed to identify human serum albumin.7 In this method, a secondary antibody is introduced for detection purposes.7

1985 – The ELISA is the first commonly used test for HIV screening. On March 2, 1985, it was approved for use.9

Present – ELISA is utilized to screen for antibodies of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) in response to a global pandemic that caused the complete lockdown of many countries.

ELISA molecular devices

Image Credit: Molecular Devices UK Ltd

References and Further Reading

  1. Coons, A. H. The beginnings of immunofluorescence. J. Immunol. 87, 499–503 (1961).Coons, A. H. The beginnings of immunofluorescence. J. Immunol. 87, 499–503 (1961).
  2. Yalow, Rosalyn and Berson, Solomon. “Immunoassay of endogenous plasma insulin in man.” The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 1960;39: 1157–75.Yalow, Rosalyn and Berson, Solomon. “Immunoassay of endogenous plasma insulin in man.” The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 1960;39: 1157–75.
  3. Perlmann, Peter et al. “Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) quantitative assay of immunoglobulin G.” Immunochemistry. 1971;8 (9): 871–4.Perlmann, Peter et al. “Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) quantitative assay of immunoglobulin G.” Immunochemistry. 1971;8 (9): 871–4.
  4. Schuurs, A. “Immunoassay using antigen—enzyme conjugates.” FEBS Letters. 1971;15 (3): 232–236.Schuurs, A. “Immunoassay using antigen—enzyme conjugates.” FEBS Letters. 1971;15 (3): 232–236.
  5. Yorde, Donald et al. “Competitive Enzyme-Linked Immunoassay with Use of Soluble Enzyme/Antibody Immune Complexes for Labeling. I. Measurement of Human Choriogonadotropin.” Clin. Chem. 1976;22/8,1372–1377 Yorde, Donald et al. “Competitive Enzyme-Linked Immunoassay with Use of Soluble Enzyme/Antibody Immune Complexes for Labeling. I. Measurement of Human Choriogonadotropin.” Clin. Chem. 1976;22/8,1372–1377
  6. Kato, K et al. “Use of rabbit antiboty IgG bound onto plain and aminoalkylsilyl glass surface for the enzyme-linked sandwich immunoassay.” J Biochem. 1977 Jul;82(1):261–6.Kato, K et al. “Use of rabbit antiboty IgG bound onto plain and aminoalkylsilyl glass surface for the enzyme-linked sandwich immunoassay.” J Biochem. 1977 Jul;82(1):261–6.
  7. Lindström, P et al. “IgG autoantibody to human serum albumin studied by the ELISA-technique.” Scand J Immunol. 1978;7(5):419-25.Lindström, P et al. “IgG autoantibody to human serum albumin studied by the ELISA-technique.” Scand J Immunol. 1978;7(5):419-25.
  8. Czerkinsky, C et al. “A solid-phase enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay for enumeration of specific antibody-secreting cells.” J Immunol Methods. 1983;65 (1–2): 109–121.Czerkinsky, C et al. “A solid-phase enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay for enumeration of specific antibody-secreting cells.” J Immunol Methods. 1983;65 (1–2): 109–121.
  9. Alexander, Thomas. “Human Immunodeficiency Virus Diagnostic Testing: 30 Years of Evolution.” Clinical and Vaccine Immunology. 2016 Apr;23(4):249-253.Alexander, Thomas. “Human Immunodeficiency Virus Diagnostic Testing: 30 Years of Evolution.” Clinical and Vaccine Immunology. 2016 Apr;23(4):249-253.

About Molecular Devices UK Ltd

Molecular Devices is one of the world’s leading providers of high-performance life science technology. We make advanced scientific discovery possible for academia, pharma, and biotech customers with platforms for high-throughput screening, genomic and cellular analysis, colony selection and microplate detection. From cancer to COVID-19, we've contributed to scientific breakthroughs described in over 230,000 peer-reviewed publications.

Over 160,000 of our innovative solutions are incorporated into laboratories worldwide, enabling scientists to improve productivity and effectiveness – ultimately accelerating research and the development of new therapeutics. Molecular Devices is headquartered in Silicon Valley, Calif., with best-in-class teams around the globe. Over 1,000 associates are guided by our diverse leadership team and female president that prioritize a culture of collaboration, engagement, diversity, and inclusion.

To learn more about how Molecular Devices helps fast-track scientific discovery, visit www.moleculardevices.com.


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Last updated: Dec 11, 2023 at 6:51 AM

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