There are questions about the reproducibility of antibodies. There are potential major problems because of the change in the the way the antibodies are being produced and the way they are being used.
History of Antibody Research
Antibodies were used over 50 years ago in immunoassays in immunohistochemistry and Western blots. The technology today, ELISA/aPCR, nanoscopy, ChIP sequencing, and nanoimmunoassays are stretching the limits of antibody capabilities.
In the 1950s, scientists created their own polyclonal antibodies. In the 70s and 80s different small companies were formed that sold antibodies to researchers. Then pathologists began using the antibodies and the light bulb went off in larger companies that antibodies had market potential. By the 1990s many of the startup companies were being bought out by larger companies.
The original companies often had the names of the founders and they took great pride in the quality of the product. The merged companies are putting out product but there are questions about the validity and the reproducibility of data generated using the new antibody tools.
Researchers are not blameless. Due to pressures to publish, many just buy something from a catalog instead of taking the time to check and make sure that it is the best product for their intended purpose. Some by on the reputation of the company alone, others buy on price figuring that high priced products must be good.
There is another problem. If the company, because of mergers just sells what it has acquired and has never developed any of these products, they may not have the expertise to give advice to researchers as to what would be best for their intended purpose.
Some of the problems can be overcome by researchers stopping inappropriate short cuts. One of these short cuts is the not used controls. And Western blots have limited use if there aren’t positive and negative controls. If it is done correctly though, it can be very helpful and revealing.
Another problem is that research reagents aren’t adequately scrutinized and tested. Some antibodies are sold by OEMS. Some are bad and some are good. The good ones have excellent quality control. Bad ones look to sell as much as possible and have little or no technical support.
One thing that would improve the situation would be to slow down the rush to market and also to have well defined acceptance criteria.