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Cell division


How to isolate your own cells
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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You can isolate cells very easily from your own person or from volunteers, usually without too much pain. And, for example, I've done it to myself and I'll illustrate it. You can pinch, for example, part of your tissue like your wrist until it's a bit numb. Then you pull up one hair with a forceps, so you have a pyramid of skin, then you knock the top of that pyramid off with a sterile scalpel, with a bit of pain obviously, but easily endured, and you take that hair with its attached skin, put it into a vessel that contains an enzyme called trypsin. The trypsin dissolves the substances that keep cells together in a tissue. Very much like a brick wall and what you're doing is dissolving the mortar in a brick wall and releasing the millions of cells, and there are millions of cells, in that tiny scrap of tissue, and now you take those cells, put them in a growth media.

The media consists of chemicals that are well known, that you might expect, like amino acids, certain salts, sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, etc. And because we do not know, for most cells, certainly normal cells, what their growth requirements are in chemical terms, we have to cover our ignorance by including in the media serum from an animal. Usually about 10% of the volume of the growth media consists of serum. It might be humbling to realise that your own cells, or human cells, grow very well in serum from a cow, a horse, or several other species. You do not need human serum to grow human cells, although they will grow in human cells, but that obviously is much more difficult to obtain, more costly. So generally people use bovine serum as the cover-up for ignorance and that continues to this day.

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: human cells, trypsin, skin, bovine serum, growth medium

Duration: 2 minutes, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012