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Discovering that SV40 causes tumors


The discovery of the SV40 virus
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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As a consequence of these unfortunate events associated with the use of primary monkey kidney cells in the early 60s and the emergence of approximately 20 or 30 viruses... different viruses found in the cells and the necessity for tests to exclude them, and all of the other efforts in this regard, the... my proposal of using... or my normal human cell strains for this purpose, in particular WI-26, which became widely circulated for experiments that addressed this problem, the... there occurred another even that was even of greater consequence.

And that was that in efforts to explore the use of other monkey species for vaccine development and manufacture, and hopefully to find a species that lacked these dangerous viruses, Maurice Hilleman at Merck and a man by the name of Benjamin Sweet did experiments, I believe it was with the green monkey, cercopithecus aethiops, which revealed something very interesting.

I won't go through the technology in which this was discovered; that's rather detailed and irrelevant other than the conclusion. And the conclusion was that green monkey cells yielded a result implying that a new virus was present in the cells from... from rhesus and cynomolgus monkeys that had very strange properties. And they called this virus – I believe they were the ones who named it – SV40.  All of the viruses found in money kidney were given the name SV, standing for Simian Virus, and they were numbered. This one then received the number 40. And about the same time, events were occurring that would link with this observation at the National Institutes of Health.

Leonard Hayflick (b. 1928), the recipient of several research prizes and awards, including the 1991 Sandoz Prize for Gerontological Research, is known for his research in cell biology, virus vaccine development, and mycoplasmology. He also has studied the ageing process for more than thirty years. Hayflick is known for discovering that human cells divide for a limited number of times in vitro (refuting the contention by Alexis Carrel that normal body cells are immortal), which is known as the Hayflick limit, as well as developing the first normal human diploid cell strains for studies on human ageing and for research use throughout the world. He also made the first oral polio vaccine produced in a continuously propogated cell strain - work which contributed to significant virus vaccine development.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Maurice Hilleman, Benjamin Sweet

Duration: 2 minutes, 50 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012