Leonard Hayflick Shares the City of Philadelphia 2014 John Scott Award


Leonard Hayflick

Dr. Leonard Hayflick is a native Philadelphian. He attended the University of Pennsylvania receiving his B.A. in Microbiology and Chemistry in 1951, a M.S. in Medical Microbiology in 1953 and a Ph.D. in Medical Microbiology and Chemistry in1956.

Dr. Hayflick and Dr. Paul Moorhead, two internationally recognized scientists, are to receive the 2014 City of Philadelphia John Scott Award.

First awarded in 1822 the Award is the oldest scientific award in the United States and, as a legacy to Benjamin Franklin, they are in the historic company of past winners who include Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk, Irving Langmuir, Nicola Tesla, Guglielmo Marconi, R. Buckminister Fuller, Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir Howard Florey, Edwin Land, and the Wright Brothers.

The award includes a cash prize, a medal and a certificate and is given to the “most deserving” men and women whose inventions have contributed in some outstanding way to the “comfort, welfare and happiness” of mankind. Nominations are made by a committee of Philadelphians to the Board of Directors of City Trusts of the City of Philadelphia.

The ceremony and reception will take place on Friday, November 21, 2014 in Benjamin Franklin Hall at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA.

Dr. Hayflicks’ research discoveries, mostly made at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, occurred in the fields of aging, cancer and microbiology.

In 1968 Dr. Hayflick was Professor of Medical Microbiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California. He then joined the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he became Director of the Center for Gerontological Studies and Professor of Zoology, Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Medicine. In 1988 he joined the faculty of the University of California, San Francisco where he is presently Professor of Anatomy.

He is a member of twenty scientific societies in which he has held several high offices including President of the Gerontological Society of America, founding member of the Council of the National Institute on Aging, NIH and Chairman of its’ Executive Committee.

He is an Academician of the Ukrainian Academy of Medical Sciences, corresponding member of the Société de Biologie of France, recipient of the van Weezel Award by the European Society for Animal Cell Technology and the Lord Cohen of Birkenhead Medal by the British Society for Research on Aging.

An annual “Hayflick Lecture” was established by The American Aging Association and also by the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He is an Honorary Life Member of the British Society for Research on Ageing.

Hayflick is one of the most cited contemporary scientists, – the author of over 275 scientific papers, book chapters and edited books of which four papers are among the 100 most cited scientific papers of the two million papers published in the basic biomedical sciences from 1961 to 1978.

Dr. Hayflick is the author of, “How and Why We Age” published in August 1994 by Ballantine Books, NYC and in 1996 as a paperback. This book, translated into nine languages, and a selection of The Book-of-the-Month Club, has sold over 50,000 copies world-wide.

In the early 1960’s Hayflick discovered that cultured normal human cells have a limited capacity to replicate (commonly referred to as “The Hayflick Limit.”) and overturned a dogma in which it was believed, since the field began in 1907, that all cultured cells are potentially immortal. He interpreted his finding as aging at the cell level.

Hayflick showed that only abnormal or cancer cells were immortal which led to research on how normal mortal cells become immortal cancer cells.

These discoveries had profound implications in the fields of aging and cancer biology. It had been believed that if normal cells in the body were potentially immortal then aging could not be caused by events within the cell. The cause of aging must be events occurring outside of the cell like radiation, stress or “wear and tear.”

He found the first of hundreds of age changes in cultured normal human cells that were also found in cells in the body.

These discoveries caused the explosive growth of research into the biology of aging that has occurred in the last few decades. Aging, as a legitimate field of research, had been largely ignored until Hayflicks’ findings.

Hayflick also reported that cells cultured from old donors underwent fewer doublings than did those from younger donors.

Hayflick found that cultured normal human fetal cells only undergo about fifty doublings and that the cells can be preserved frozen for years. This allowed him to observe that the frozen cells, “remembered” at what doubling level they had been frozen and then, when thawed, continued to complete the remaining number of doublings up to the limit of about fifty. He interpreted this cell “memory” phenomenon to suggest that normal cells have a counting mechanism. He located the mechanism in the cells’ nucleus. The “memory” of the normal human WI-38 cell strain that Hayflick developed in 1962 has remained intact for fifty-two years, – the longest period of time that living, normal human cells have been preserved frozen.

In later years discoveries by others of structures at the ends of chromosomes called telomeres, found that they shortened at each division thus providing the molecular explanation for Hayflick’s findings. The discovery that the enzyme “telomerase”, and switched on by cancer cells, stopped telomere shortening and explained why they are immortal.

Hayflick also found that because WI-38 was exquisitely sensitive to the multiplication of all then known human viruses, he suggested their use for the production of safer human virus vaccines. He produced the first poliomyelitis virus vaccine in these cells. In the 1960’s all of the world’s poliomyelitis virus vaccines (both Sabin and Salk types) were produced on primary monkey kidney cells that were found to frequently contain dangerous or even lethal viruses.

Hayflick spearheaded an international effort to replace primary monkey kidney cells with WI-38.

From the mid 1960’s until today, most of the world’s human virus vaccines (poliomyelitis, adenovirus, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (chicken pox), rabies, and Hepatitis A) have been made in WI-38 or a British version (MRC-5) developed later. These vaccines have benefitted over two billion people.

Hayflick was unable to patent WI-38 because in 1962 patent laws did not include living cells. He donated WI-38 gratis to the world’s vaccine manufacturers who made billions in profits. He has not received compensation for this contribution.

The acquisition of the property of immortality by normal cells is a fundamental process that changes a normal cell into a cancer cell. This discovery spawned the enormous field of cancer research based on efforts to understand the phenomenon of how normal mortal cells become immortal cancer cells.

A good measure of the impact that his two papers have had may be appreciated by the fact that they have been cited in the scientific literature close to 10,000 times.

The cause of the common human upper respiratory disease, primary atypical pneumonia, or “walking pneumonia”, remained an enigma until 1961 when Dr. Hayflick discovered that the agent was a new mycoplasma species that he subsequently named Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Mycoplasmas are the smallest microorganisms that, unlike viruses, can live and multiply on dead material. Hayflick discovered the first mycoplasma found to be the cause of a human disease. The unique medium formula that he developed for mycoplasma growth is still used worldwide.

The 1958 inverted microscope that Hayflick adapted from crystallography for use in cell culture is the prototype for all subsequent inverted microscopes used in the field. It has been accessioned by the Smithsonian Institution along with original ampoules of Hayflicks’ WI-38 cell strain and the labeled containers of the Pfizer poliomyelitis and Wyeth rabies vaccines produced in these cells.

Share this page