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Vaccine production uses my cell cultures

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The debate on the use of passaged cells for vaccine production
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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Another event occurred that was really bothersome and that was an event that occurred at the NIH in which a meeting was held by I think it was four or five major personalities at the NIH, including a gentlemen who was a well-known cell culturist. His name was Wilton Earle, E-A-R-L-E; a very well-known personality in the cell culture field. He worked at the National Cancer Institute; did a lot of very important work. And he headed a committee that the NIH established to address this question of whether a cell population like my cell populations could, in fact, be useful for vaccine production. One of the members was Karl Habel, in fact; he was not a cell culturist, so he cannot be guilty of what I will explain shortly as a serious problem created by that committee. It was Wilton Earle who was behind this effort.

The conclusion... the fear that was prevalent worldwide at that time was based on the belief that because primary cells were cultures that were introduced into a cell... a culture vessel and not subcultured, that they were safer than cells that were cultured continuously, as my diploid cells were. Their argument was, and this is stated in print by several influential British scientists and it was the conclusion of this committee as well, that when cells are cultured continuously, there is a greater and greater likelihood that they will transform into cancer cells, so they should not be used for vaccine production.

Of course, my work demonstrated that this was absolutely not the case; that we had cultured by now 26 human embryos, none of them spontaneously transformed, up to 50 population doublings each. Furthermore, I pointed out then and in subsequent meetings where this controversy existed for at least eight or ten years, that when people culture primary monkey kidney cells for vaccine production, if they're clever and want to save money, because monkeys are very expensive, they will introduce into the primary culture vessel as few cells as possible in order to make as many culture vessels as possible for vaccine production and rely on the fact that those few cells will eventually cover the entire floor of the flask and still remain a primary culture. Therefore, those cells have undergone several population doublings in that initial first vessel, despite the claim that... it's not the passage of cells from bottle to bottle; it's population doublings.

It's the number the times the cell population will replicate on the surface of a... on the floor of the flask; not the number of times you transfer. As a matter of fact, in our work, we have to reach approximately seven or eight population doublings before we reach the level of population doublings achieved by the astute manufacturer who seeds his vessels with as few cells as he can get away with. However, this was pointed out later only after this committee reached its conclusion that passage cells were dangerous and published it as a letter, I believe, in Science magazine.Well, I took great umbrage at this because by this time my paper had been published and it seemed to me that they were simply trying to torpedo my work.

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: National Institute of Health, Science, Wilton Earle

Duration: 4 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012