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The Wistar rat colony


The history of the Wistar Institute
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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The Institute was founded by a member of the Wistar family, a very well-known, at least in the 19th century, Philadelphia family, who had some wealth. They had several influential members, one of whom was a General during the Civil War, and they had... they built a substantial library, in addition to which one of the members chose, with enormous foresight, to establish an Institute technically called the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology, which had been built in the 1880s and was the first and oldest biological research institute in the United States. It sits in the middle of the University of Pennsylvania campus, but... and has ties to the university, of course, but it remains independent from the university in respect to management, budget, etc. In order to demonstrate its independence from the institute... from the university, my chief, when I returned many years later, just to give you an idea… humorous aside, would demonstrate his independence, the independence of the institute from the university. The director at that time was Hilary Koprowski, about whom I'll discuss more later. Hilary would pull out a bottle of whisky or claret and pour it for a visitor in order to prove that, unlike the University of Pennsylvania where that is absolutely forbidden and you could probably be sacked for doing it, he was able to do it without fear of any reprisal, because it was an independent institute.

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: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Wistar Institute, Hilary Koprowski

Duration: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012