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Moving from the Wistar Institute to Stanford University


A fish in a tank of sharks
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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I also saw things at the Wistar Institute that confirmed these evolving thoughts, even to the point that I remember on one or two occasions thinking that I was... This is probably an extreme judgement, but I do remember feeling it, feeling as a fish in a tank of sharks.

That is an extreme statement, but it conveys the thought, and observing the behaviour of people in other situations as well. So I now became rather cynical, and one of the turning points was when a colleague walked into my laboratory one day, and said, 'Len, do you know about this?' And flashed a letter in my face, signed by my director, Hilary Koprowski, and the letter was addressed to a high official at Wellcome Laboratories, in the UK, who were known vaccine manufacturers, and the theme of the letter was the following: 'We at the Wistar Institute are willing to provide you, Wellcome Laboratories, with all the starter cultures of WI-38 that you want, and the technical knowledge necessary to produce polio vaccine. Sincerely yours, Hilary Koprowski.' Well, of course, this I never knew. It came out of the blue. I was never consulted. I think it's fair to say that I should have been consulted. After all, all these developments emerged from my laboratory, not from Hilary's.

Hilary certainly was supportive, but this seemed to me to be a kind of unacceptable behaviour, especially because I learned, I don't think through that, certainly not through that letter, but through friends, that the financial arrangements, the royalty arrangements that Hilary was wanting... had established with Wellcome, perhaps would revert to the Wistar Institute, to support the members of the institute. I was not technically a member of the institute. I was an associate member, assistant, or something like that. I was not at the top level of membership of the Wistar Institute. The people who were were the people who accompanied Hilary to the institute when he became director, and many other senior people, who certainly deserved to be members of the institute. People like Rupert Billingham, a very well-known immunologist who worked with Peter Medawar, who ultimately won a Nobel Prize for his and Rupert Billingham's studies, a famous paper by Billingham, Brent, and Medawar that describes immune tolerance. So, Billingham became part of our staff. A wonderful man, and he became a full member, as did other major personalities who worked at Wistar, but I was denied this. I was denied elevation to this title.

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: The Wistar Institute, Wellcome Laboratories, Hilary Koprowski

Duration: 3 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012