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Learning about cell culture


Our $75 laboratory
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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Frank was... had a lot of experience in carpentry; I had no experience whatsoever. He had, in fact, built a house with an uncle of his so he knew a lot about carpentry. And he said, 'Len, we really should take a month off, or six weeks off, and build this laboratory or else we're not going to be able to do our PhD work, our laboratory work, here properly.' And I agreed with him, it was obvious. Neither of us had the funds to buy the materials necessary to do this. Again, I lost the bet with Frank as to who would go to Stuart Mudd, the chairman of the department, who, as I say, was independently wealthy and supported a lot of people out of his pocket at that time, who should go to Stuart Mudd and ask for funding. I lost the contest, whatever it was, went into see Stuart Mudd, told him what the story was and he simply, as I recall, reached into his pocket, took out $75, which at that time was an enormous sum of money, gave it to me and wished me luck. And in that context, of course, approved what we intended to do, which was really modest, but it meant construction.

Frank and I spent the next six weeks building this laboratory that was quite good. We next needed an incubator, because it's necessary, of course, to put cultures into an incubator that is held at 37 degrees Celsius, 98 degrees Fahrenheit. And I remember the first piece of equipment that I bought was bought from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue; it was a chicken egg incubator, which cost, I think, about $40 or less. And that incubator could now be used for microbiology work, because you could adjust the temperature to precisely 37 degrees, unlike the higher degree necessary for egg... for embryo genesis in chick eggs. That work... So that was the start of our laboratory. By this time Warren Steinbring came home from the course, full of enormous enthusiasm in respect to what the future would be using cell culture. Of course, I had never heard of cell culture, which as people know today, is simply growing cells from humans and animals in bottles or test tubes and other types of equipment.

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: Frank E Kapral, Stuart Mudd, Warren Stinebring

Duration: 3 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012