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Cell replication is due to an internal cellular phenomenon


Flaws in Alexis Carrel's method of producing 'immortal' cells
Leonard Hayflick Scientist
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These cells, this so-called immortal cell culture, was terminated, I believe in 1942 or thereabouts, after something like 34 years of allegedly continuous cultivation. So I was more or less having this conversation and this woman gave me a lot of confidence that my original interpretation was close to being correct. And what further supported my contention was that many people, including a good friend from Stockholm, a man by the name of Jan Ponten did a series of experiments with cell... with chick cell cultures and found none of them capable of going beyond 15 or 20 population doublings.

Another significant event in this regard is that another major personality in the field from the University of Toronto, a man by the name of Parker, I met at a cell culture conference early on, Raymond Parker was his full name. He published several important books on tissue culture technology. I sat down with Ray Parker at this conference in the mid-'60s I believe it was, and he said... and of course, he knew about my work and about the controversy with Carrel and he said, 'Len, I need to talk to you about the Carrel story.'

He said that he spent a sabbatical year or so in Carrel's laboratory in the 20s – he was a much older man than me – and Ray said that: when I came to Carrel's laboratory I told him, you know, your technicians are preparing embryo extract every three days. It's a task that they need not do as frequently as that. What we do in our laboratory in Toronto is to make the embryo extract and put it in the refrigerator and it lasts us for a couple of weeks and this minimised the amount of work our technicians have to do.

'Oh', said Carrel, 'that won't work at all because the nutrients necessary for the replication of my immortal cell strain will be destroyed upon refrigeration which is why we prepare it twice a week.' And Ray went on to say that when he made this proposal to Carrel and argued to at least try it, Carrel finally agreed and Ray prepared the embryo extract along with the technicians and after outing it in the refrigerator and introducing it into this immortal cell culture, the immortal cell culture began to look weary and tired and failing. And Carrel said, 'You see, I told you that if you put this embryo extract in a refrigerator, the nutrients are destroyed.'

Well, that also explained and supported the contention that putting the embryo extract in the refrigerator would kill the living cells that we proposed were present in that media because it was well known that if you put living cells in a refrigerator for 24 or 48 hours, they won't survive. In order to preserve cells, it requires a much more sophisticated technology and a temperature far lower than an ordinary refrigerator. So that persuaded Carrel, of course you can believe to be correct and it persuaded me and many others to believe that we were on the right track in respect to our interpretation. So that was a key meeting I had with Ray Parker.

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: Alexis Carrel, Raymond Parker, Jan Ponten

Duration: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2011

Date story went live: 08 August 2012