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My work was not supported by either a grant or a contract


Cell immortalization
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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Returning now to the cell... cells themselves, in 1962, as I mentioned earlier, I believe, I laid down several hundred ampoules of WI-38 to replace WI-26, which I found was not going to be available for the long period of time I had hoped. I should say at this point, or at least underline, perhaps, one or two things that I mentioned earlier, because they will be of extraordinary... extraordinary importance in about ten years' time, from the time period that I'm presently discussing, so they need to be emphasized.

The first thing is that in our original paper, and as I suggested – I did mention this but didn't emphasise sufficiently, that the difference between the behaviour of normal cells in the laboratory, in a laboratory culture, and cancer cells in a laboratory culture, is that the former are mortal and the latter cancer cells are immortal. And that they have direct in vivo, which means in the body – that is not in a bottle –counterparts. It's suggested, and I argued this case, that our normal body cells are mortal, and that cancer cells that are found to occur in the body are immortal. Although that aspect had already... had been known, cancer tissue had been transferred from laboratory animal to laboratory animal for decades. For example, mouse tumours could be transplanted from mouse to mouse, so over many, many generations, so the immortality of cancer cells was pretty well established in vivo. However, in vitro we only knew of two or three, principally the HeLa cell, so I established this distinction between cancer cells and normal cells.

I mentioned an underline at this point, because it became a critically important part of the cancer research field. Why? Because now you had an opportunity to grow normal cells in culture, expose them to chemicals, transform them into cancer cells, or perhaps expose them to viruses that cause cancer, like the viruses that we call oncogenic viruses, and under these circumstances you can study cancer at the cellular level, which prior to this work was very difficult to do. You didn't need to haul animals in order to make these studies, so the field of cell immortalisation, as it became known over the years, became a very large part of the cancer research effort. It still is today.

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: normal cells, cancer cells, laboratory culture, in vivo, in vitro, cell mortality, cell immortality, HeLa Cell

Duration: 3 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012