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Shafted by a bean-counter


Who owns WI-38 and similar cell strains?
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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So the question is, if you own a cell strain or a cell line, which I just described, what do you own? Do you own only the initial ampule, which is essentially valueless, despite the fact that its potential is extraordinary? I say extraordinary when I tell you that vaccines produced in WI-38 – rubella, measles, German measles, polio, rabies, hepatitis B, and several other vaccines; mumps, measles, I think I mentioned – have been produced by the world's vaccine manufacturers and have benefitted more than 2 billion people, that is one third of the population of the planet. And this can be documented. I'm not pulling these figures out of what we call 'left field', I can document this and I have documented it. Well, this gives you some idea of the value, not of this first ampule but of the potential. That concept was unappreciated and never addressed in law. And this is the key problem that worried me: who owns WI-38 and similar cells? Now, today there are hundreds of them, maybe, probably thousands of them. And that question remains unanswered.

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: ownership of cell culture, rubella, measles, measles, mumps, vaccine manufacturers, polio, rabies, hepatitis B, law, WI-38

Duration: 1 minute, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2013

Date story went live: 14 June 2013