Immortal HeLa Cells
And The Continuing Contamination Of
Cancer And Vaccine Research
By Alan Cantwell MD. c. 2010
Could cancer virus and vaccine experimentation, which utilizes live cells of human and animal origin, be spreading viruses and bacteria between various species? Could such experimentation be related to new emerging diseases and viruses that are erupting in man? Or to the increasing concern and controversy over vaccine-induced human illness? Or to contamination of HeLa cells (pronounced hee-lah), the widely-used experimental cancer cells that grow in cancer and vaccine laboratories like weeds?
Cancer and virus research and “immortal” HeLa cells
The history of human tissue cell culture began with Henrietta Lacks, a young black woman from Baltimore, who died from a highly malignant cervical cancer in 1951. Despite radiation and surgery, her tumor spread rapidly. Within eight months she was dead, at age 31. But part of Henrietta’s cancer remained alive. At surgery, a few pieces of her tumor were donated to a laboratory specializing in tissue cell culture. In those days, this was a frustrating business. Most attempts to grow human cells outside the body failed. Rarely, a few cells would thrive for a while, and then die off.
Henrietta’s cells were kept alive by feeding them a concoction more like a witch’s brew that a lab recipe for cell culture. Nevertheless, the success of the recipe heralded a new age of modern virology. As chronicled by Michael Gold, A Conspiracy of Cells (1986), the laboratory concoction consisted of:
1. Blood from human placenta. (The placenta, which nurtures the developing fetus, contains powerful hormones and a host of viruses and bacteria, as yet not fully investigated.)
2. Beef embryo extract (the ground-up remains of a three-week-old unborn cattle embryo.
3. Fresh chicken plasma obtained from the blood of a live chicken heart.
For some unknown reason, Henrietta’s cancer cells continued to grow vigorously. The cells did not age. Instead, if fed properly they could live and multiply indefinitely. Amazingly, her new tissue culture “cell line” proved to be “immortal.” These malignant cells became the first successful human tissue culture cell line in medical history-the now famous HeLa cell line commemorating the legendary HEnrietta LAcks.
(Divide and Conquer A HeLa cell splitting into two new cells. The green spots are chromosomes.Courtesy Paul D. Andrews)
Gold claims the cell line brought revolutionary changes (as well as havoc) into the field of cancer virus research. Viruses could be now seeded onto glass tubes containing sheets of live cells; and for the first time, virologists could directly observe the effects of viral infection on living cells.
But what about all those known and unknown viruses and bacteria that were incorporated into Henrietta’s cells by the chicken, beef and human blood and tissue mix that fed her cells and made them immortal? And what about the herpes virus-transformed human papilloma virus contained in her cancer cells, which in the 1950s was not accepted as the cause of cervical cancer? Apparently there was no scientific concern about any of this contamination.
HeLa cells proved so hardy that when passed around the world to various laboratories over the next few decades, the immortal cells frequently contaminated other tissue culture cells lines used in cancer and cancer virus research.
In 1974 Walter Nelson-Rees, a cell culture expert, discovered widespread contamination of cell lines with HeLa, by using a light microscope and a special Giemsa cell stain which revealed the distinctive chromosomal aberrations typical of HeLa. As a whistle-blower, he blew the lid off cancer research. Forty different human cell culture lines, used extensively in labs worldwide, were contaminated with HeLa. Millions of dollars worth of published cancer research experiments were ruined. “Liver cells” and “monkey cells” used in cancer experiments turned out to be Henrietta’s cervical cancer in disguise. Benign cells, which “spontaneously transformed” into malignant cells, were retrospectively found to be cell cultures which had been inadvertently contaminated with HeLa.
Even the iconic Jonas Salk, who developed the legendary Salk polio vaccine, was fooled when HeLa cells contaminated his animal cell lines. Salk used HeLa cells to grow the polio virus and he tested the vaccine on HeLa cells before its use on human in 1955. Years later, in 1978, before a stunned audience of cell biologists and vaccine makers, he spoke about experiments he performed in the late 1950s on dying cancer patients. Salk injected them with a cell line of monkey heart tissue- the same cell line he used to harvest polio virus for his famous vaccine. He hoped the monkey cell injections would stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. However, when abscesses developed at the site of injections Salk began to suspect that he might be injecting HeLa cells rather than monkey cells, and he stopped the experiment.
Nelson-Rees, who also attended the 1978 conference, offered to test Salk’s line if it was still available. Salk graciously agreed and the monkey cells indeed proved to be HeLa cells which had invaded and taken over the monkey cell line. According to author Gold, Salk thought there were adequate ways to separate viruses from the tissue cell lines, so that it really didn’t matter what kind of cells were used. Even if vaccines weren’t filtered, and even if whole cancer cells were injected directly into a human, Salk believed they would be rejected by the body and cause no harm. In those days doctors didn’t much believe in cancer-causing viruses. Nowadays, no researcher would dare try injecting cancer cells into a human being. But in the 1950s Salk had done it accidently. He had injected cancerous HeLa cells into a few dozen patients and it hadn’t bothered him a bit.
Rees-Nelson, who co-authored the paper, “Henrietta Lacks, HeLa cells, and cell culture contamination”, published in the September 2009 issue of the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, concluded: “Despite the passing of nearly 50 years since the problem first surfaced of HeLa cell contamination of tissue cultures and despite the explosive advances in molecular biology, cell culture contamination remains an important issue for the scientific community. The problem extends far beyond HeLa cells, although they remain a culprit. In one study, 45 of 252 human cell lines (18%) supplied by 27 of 93 originators (29%) were contaminated. Fortunately, there was recently a call to action on preventing contaminated cell lines.”
The Wikipedia currently provides a long “List of contaminated cell lines.”
Continuing cell line contamination in the 21st century
On January 15, 2010 the BBC reported cell contamination still is a problem in cancer research, and that dozens of cancer studies may be thrown into doubt by the discovery that researchers inadvertently used the wrong type of cancer cells. The cell lines, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, were supplied as samples of esophageal cancer. However, tests show they contained other types of tumor, including lung and bowel.
Dutch researchers say this could put major trials of drugs in doubt. They noted: “Experimental results based on these contaminated cell lines have led to ongoing clinical trials recruiting patients, to more than 100 scientific publications, and to at least three cancer research grants and 11 US patents – which emphasizes the importance of our findings.” Widespread use of these cell lines could threaten the development of new treatments, they said.
At the end of January 2010, ABC News issued a glowing report on “How one woman’s cells changed medicine”. Microbiology professor Vincent Racaniello of Columbia University claimed HeLa cells has led to some of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the last hundred years. ABC reminds us that these immortal cells, trillions upon trillions of them, were first used in research that led to the polio vaccine, as well as helping to develop medicines to fight cancer, the flu, and Parkinson’s disease, and in the research that led to gene mapping and cloning. They were used to test the effects of atomic radiation and sent into outer space. “I think we owe a lot of gratitude for what Henrietta provided,” Racaniello said. “There’s absolutely no doubt about that.”
On February 5, Popular Science online declared Henrietta Lacks as “the most important women in medical history.”
Cancer-causing Monkey Viruses and the Polio Vaccine
Scientists tell us that HIV is the first monkey virus to “jump species” to cause the pandemic of AIDS. The rarely-publicized
truth is that a cancer-causing monkey viruses jumped species into man more than a half century ago when contaminated polio vaccines were given to millions of people in the 1950s, including half the U.S. population of that era.
In the early 1960’s it was discovered that some lots of polio
vaccines manufactured on rhesus monkey kidney tissue during the period 1955 to 1963 were contaminated with a monkey virus called SV-40 (Simian virus 40). This primate virus was quickly proven to cause various cancers in experimental animals. However, to this day, government health officials still insist there is no absolute proof that SV40 causes cancer in humans.
Despite the denial, genetic and immunologic studies by independent researchers over the past decade indicate that SV40 is clearly associated with certain cancers, such as rapidly-fatal cancers of the lung (mesothelioma), bone marrow cancer (multiple myeloma), brain tumors in children, and other forms of cancer.
A Washington Times report (09/21/03) indicates “Some of the polio vaccine given to millions of American children from 1962 until 2000 could have been contaminated with a monkey virus that shows up in some cancers, according to documents and testimony to be delivered to a House committee Wednesday. The vaccine manufacturer said such
claims ‘don’t have any validity,’ and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees. More information on polio vaccine litigation and SV40 contaminatiom can be found at sv40cancer.com.
For anyone who still thinks that vaccine makers and government health officials are always your friend, I would highly recommend The Virus and the Vaccine: The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed, by Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher. The book explores the history of the polio vaccine, the contamination problems with SV40 , the ensuing vaccine-related cancer problems, and the government’s cover-up of the problem.
Few people realize how dangerous vaccines can be and how complicated the process of vaccine manufacture really is, particularly when vaccines are made on living animal or human cells. Contamination with bacteria, mycoplasma, and viruses and their elimination from the final product are constant problems during development process. There are also suspicions that laboratory media used to
feed cell cultures can also be a source of contamination. For further details on the dangers of vaccines, see my Internet article, “Are Vaccines Causing More Diseases than they are curing?”
The vaccine connection to the origin of the AIDS epidemic
In my admittedly controversial view, HIV/AIDS is a man-made disease that was initially seeded exclusively into the U.S gay community via contaminated experimental hepatitis B vaccine programs conducted in the late 1970s. The details and evidence of the close relationship between the vaccine and the outbreak of the first AIDS cases in 1979 is explored in my books, AIDS & the Doctors of Death, and Queer Blood. One can easily Google “man-made AIDS” for numerous Internet articles on this taboo subject.
Since the publication of these books, a video has surfaced on youtube.com featuring Maurice Hilleman, PhD, one of the world’s leading vaccine experts. He became famous at Merck pharmaceutical company for improving the Salk polio vaccine and for insisting that the macaque kidney cells not be used to produce the vaccine because the cells were known to cause cancer in hamsters. His crowning achievement came in 1971 when he developed the MMR vaccine, the universally used measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine that is the cornerstone of pediatric health in the United States.
Hilleman then turned his attention to the development of the hepatitis B vaccine. A series of experimental vaccine trails using gay man as guinea pigs that took place, first in Manhattan in 1978. The first cases of AIDS were reported in Manhattan a few months after the injections began.
In the video (“Merck Chief Brings HIV/AIDS to America”), Hilleman is heard speaking with colleagues. He declares, “I brought African greens [monkeys] in. I didn’t know we were importing AIDS virus at the time [i.e., between 1970-1974]. His colleagues are heard laughing. Someone says, “It was you who introduced AIDS virus in the country.” And a woman’s voice giggles, “Now we know.”
This stunning interview, conducted by Edward Shorter for WGBH public television and Blackwell Science, was cut from the documentary “The Health Century”, due to liability issues, undoubtedly reflecting poorly on Merck where the vaccine injected into gay men was developed. We are indebted to Leonard G Horowitz, one of a handful of health professionals who is a whistle blower on man-made AIDS and vaccine issues, for uncovering and freely distributing this video segment.
As is often the fate of whistle-blowers, Walter Rees-Nelson was driven out of his lab by powerful members of the scientific establishment, undoubtedly angered by the disruption of cancer research and all the money lost because of contaminated HeLA. In 1999 British journalist Edward Hooper wrote a massive tome called The River, in which he theorizes that polio vaccines grown on primate tissue could have been contaminated with monkey viruses, thus giving rise to the outbreak of AIDS in Africa. This theory was uniformly rejected by scientists attending the Origin of AIDS Conference in London in September 2000. Hooper continues to allege a conspiracy to silence all aspects of his hypothesis.
In the early part of 2000, Nelson-Rees, who was openly gay, took an avid interest in Hooper’s extensive AIDS research. Along with Hooper he took spoke at the London conference where the polio vaccine connection to AIDS was rejected. Although retired from science, Nelson-Rees was still highly respected and was allowed to present his views.
When Nelson-Rees died in 2009 at age 80, Hooper wrote a moving obituary (available on aidsorigins.com) entitled, “The death of an American hero”. Hooper recalls, “Walter delivered an understated and yet powerful speech entitled ‘Responsibility for Truth in Research’, which pointed out that further cases of lab cross-contamination were still occurring, and went on to state that in his opinion there was no logical reason why chimp cells could not have been used to make the Congo vaccine, given the availability of these normal non-human cells and the prevailing custom in the 1950s of using cells about which little or nothing was known except that they could optimally support the growth of a given virus.'”
The idea of man-made AIDS and contaminated vaccines is so explosive that it is routinely dismissed by the major media as “conspiracy theory.” But the theory almost destroyed Barack Obama’s bid for the White House in the election of 2008. An entry on Leonard Horowitz in the Wikipedia states: On April 27, 2008, Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, during questions and answers at the National Press Club in connection with the general controversy over his opinions, was asked by a moderator, “In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?” Wright responded, “Have you read Horowitz’s book, “Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola,” whoever wrote that question? …. I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven’t read things, then you can’t — based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.” (For more discussion, view my article “Rev. Wright is right about man-made AIDS”.)
Henrietta Lacks and the creation of a new species
Due to their ability to replicate indefinitely (provided they are fed properly) and the development of a non-human number of chromosomes, immortal HeLa cells are now considered by some geneticists to be a contemporary creation of a new species. The proposed name is Helacyton gartleri, in honor of geneticist Stanley Gartler, who along with Nelson-Rees, called attention to the worldwide contamination of cell tissue cultures with HeLa.
Transformed by the cervical cancer-causing human papilloma virus 18 and more than 50 years of continuing culture, the various strains of Henrietta’s cells produce and spread on their own. Growing like weeds in many labs, they now appear more like amoeba-type cells than as cells derived from a human. Amoebas are one-celled protozoa. There are several varieties found in humans that are not considered to be disease producers.
Twenty years ago, in The Cancer Microbe, I wrote about Wilhelm Reich, MD, the unfairly maligned and persecuted cancer researcher who was sentenced to Federal prison where he died in 1957. He firmly believed cancer was intimately associated with bacteria, which he called “T-bacilli.” In cancer tumors artificially produced in animals, Reich observed the animal’s cancer cells transform into monster cells that greatly resembled tiny protozoa and amoebae. Reich, in his time, was widely perceived as a menace and a crackpot. However, I am sure he would not be surprised to learn that Henrietta’s cancer cells have taken on a life of their own, much like the amoebas that he studied extensively.
The lab creation of new forms of life has not escaped the attention of the military, always on the lookout for potential agents useful for biological warfare development. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. On Feb 5, 2010, Katie Drummond of Wired.com reported that the Pentagon’s mad science arm may have come up with its most radical project yet. DARPA is looking to re-write the laws of evolution to the military’s advantage, creating “synthetic organisms” that can live forever. The plan would assemble the latest bio-tech knowledge to come up with living, breathing creatures that are genetically engineered to “produce the intended biological effect.” DARPA wants the organisms to be fortified with molecules that bolster cell resistance to death, so that the lab-monsters can “ultimately be programmed to live indefinitely.”
Henrietta Lacks: “The Godmother of Virology”
Also on February 5, 2010, a review was posted of a new book entitled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. The author spent ten years researching the billion dollar industry surrounding HeLa cells, and has extensively interviewed surviving family members. Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits.
A reviewer for the Washington Post noted: “Nearly 60 years later, Lacks’s tissue has yielded an estimated 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells. Scientific and medical researchers add about 300 HeLa-related studies a month to the library of 60,000 studies. Lacks’s surviving family members have learned what was going on — and have become subjects of interest for researchers, too.”
In a The New York Times review (2/5/10), Lisa Margonelli writes:
“After Henrietta Lacks’s death, HeLa went viral, so to speak, becoming the godmother of virology and then biotech, benefiting practically anyone who’s ever taken a pill stronger than aspirin. HeLa has helped build thousands of careers, not to mention more than 60,000 scientific studies, with nearly 10 more being published every day, revealing the secrets of everything from aging and cancer to mosquito mating and the cellular effects of working in sewers.” Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, “becomes the book’s driving force, as Skloot joins her in her ‘lifelong struggle to make peace with the existence of those cells, and the science that made them possible.’
To find the mother she never got to know, she read hundreds of articles about HeLa research, which led her to believe that her mother was ‘eternally suffering’ from all the experiments performed on her cells.”
Horizontal gene transfer : Gene swapping among life forms
While HeLa cells were spreading around the world and contaminating cell cultures, there was little appreciation of how life forms related to one another. Scientists now have a better knowledge of how viruses can “recombine” with other viruses. Viruses can also infect bacteria as well as human cells. Over the past two decades, molecular scientists have become more and more aware of the back and forth gene swapping between and among various species of life, from the smallest forms of life up to the largest forms. The process is known as “horizontal gene transfer.” We are familiar with “vertical gene transfer,” whereby the offspring of an organism inherits genes from its parent.
Horizontal gene transfer in cancer and vaccine research is a serious hazard because genetic engineering experiments allow the spread of dangerous transgenic DNA from species to species. This has tremendous implications for theories of evolution, as well as for cancer virus research when viruses are moved between various species of animals and sometimes adapted to human cells. This was basically what scientists were doing in the War on Cancer throughout the 70s, the period right before the AIDS epidemic erupted in 1981 (see my book AIDS & the Doctors of Death). For more information, simply Google key words: dangerous lateral gene transfer.
HeLa cell research: Science or scientific madness?
Having graduated from medical school a half-century ago, I am disillusioned with my chosen profession. I spent 40 years researching the bacterial cause of cancer and showing bacteria in cancer tissue, where, according to the cancer experts, there aren’t
supposed to be any. This research sparked little, if any, interest among my colleagues. I spent a quarter-century trying to alert people to the evidence that AIDS is a man-made disease, with no response from the AIDS experts, who educate people about HIV coming out of the African jungle to cause AIDS.
What do I really think about HeLa cells? HeLa cells are cancerous cells (infected with a known cancer-causing papilloma virus) to which was added the blood from a human placenta, ground-up beef embryo, and chicken plasma extracted from the blood of a live chicken heart. This is a concoction that I would expect from someone practicing witchcraft, but not good science. To use HeLa cells as a foundation, a cornerstone, a template, upon which to base viral studies strikes me as viral voodoo.
How can an infected cell culture like HeLa possibly help in cancer and vaccine research? Except to spread the known and unknown viruses, mycoplasma, bacteria, and God-only-knows what other potentially infectious agents are contained within Henrietta’s cells and the new species Helacyton gartleri.
In all my research for this article, the one bit of reading that made more sense to me than any other was provided by an anonymous blogger who posted his comments (2/1/10) on the Baltimore Sun website (2/1/10), regarding Skloot’s new book:
“A complete and total injustice was done to her family to obtain these cells. And now some crazy cancer cells that KILLED her are IN US ALL. That’s right, if you have ever gotten a vaccine you got a little HeLa in you.
The cancer killed her, and anyway, these are not normal cells, they are CANCER CELLS, and if you ask a science dude HOW OR WHY her cells are STILL ALIVE they don’t know, but they kept it a secret because at the time whites would have objected to having cancer cells that killed a black woman INJECTED INTO THEIR CHILDRENS’ BODIES. I am an African-American. To me her story is fascinating and tragic like many stories of people who have been ripped off.
Look at it this way, if her family had to be paid every time her cells were used, there would be some record of who got them. The rates for cancer have gone through the roof in the last 40 years, her cells have been found in places where it was impossible for them to have been – and still the scientists do not know why her cells are ‘Immortal.’
If her family had been informed possibly more care would have been taken with these cells that KILLED THEIR MOTHER, and for all we know, could be killing people now because we don’t know how they work.”
[Alan Cantwell is a retired dermatologist and cancer and AIDS researcher. His books on the microbe of cancer and the man-made origin of AIDS are available on amazon.com, or through Book Clearing House at 1-800-431-1579. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org]