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Going back to university


Early days at Merck
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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And that job was very interesting. The goal of the work that I was doing was to be involved in an assay for an enzyme that destroyed blood clots. And this enzyme was produced by a streptococcus that we grew in huge tanks, tanks a couple of... at least at that time, huge – they're much bigger today – about three metres high and holding maybe 1,000 litres of fluid, in which we grew this organism and then it was processed in order to extract the enzyme we were interested in. This was a pathogenic organism, so that we had to worry very much about aseptic techniques, that is, sterile techniques, techniques to prevent ourselves from being exposed to this organism.

And all of that added up to a very, very interesting experience that I... was carried over, of course, when we moved from that point to Merck's facilities in North Wales, Pennsylvania, right north of Philadelphia. And that facility was... had just been built, it was a huge horseshoe shaped building, state of the art research laboratories in which I was now a part of one. And my boss was a very nice fellow, a man by the name of Aaron Wasserman, who had spent his military career in Europe and trained in the UK and, in fact, married a British woman. He was a wonderful guy; he encouraged me in my interest in microbiology, as did his boss, who was the department chairman, a man by the name of Willard Verwey, both of whom were very influential in my love of microbiology. I also met several other people there, one of whom was a virologist, and people who were involved in biochemistry. So my interests began to become even more expanded than they were.

By this time, since I still had some... I still had some friends at Penn who had gone on to get a Master's Degree, and some of them even were pursuing a PhD, I had not done that, first of all because of financial considerations, but more importantly, as I recall, I did not feel that I had the ability to obtain a Master's Degree or a PhD. And I don't know what that... what kind of message that sends, but that's how I felt about myself. I just looked and had experience now with some PhDs at Merck and just thought their broad knowledge was so great that I could never achieve that level of understanding.

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: Merck, North Wales Pennsylvania, Aaron E Wassermann, Willard Verwey

Duration: 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012