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Flaws in Alexis Carrel's method of producing 'immortal' cells


Jan Witkowski questions Alexis Carrel's experiment
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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A man by the name of Jan Witkowski – Jan is now at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories as a... he works with Jim Watson but he manages the conference centre there. Jan, who was working in London, received a grant – I believe, from the Wellcome Foundation – to do some kind of investigation of Carrel's claim. And he wrote a series of four papers in a journal called The History of Science in which he went into this question as... deeper than anyone I know and he, of course, published these four papers.

But Jan went one step further. He argued that Carrel knew about this but by this time, Carrel's notoriety associated with this immortal cell culture was so great in the public domain that for this to be discovered and presented to the public would be a scandal of major proportions and affect his career negatively very much. And according to Jan's interpretation, this was the case. The other argument that I made was a bit more conservative and it said that Carrel didn't know about this, that the technicians were trying to protect his reputation. So, you can essentially take your choice as to what the truth might be but anyone interested should read these papers written by Jan Witkowski.

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: Cold Spring Harbor, Wellcome Foundation, History of Science, Jan Witkowski, Alexis Carrel

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012