Finding Connections & Limits

We hear it all the time: “there are no limits,” and “everything is connected.”

Well…it turns out that there are limits and, as far as I can tell, everything is connected. Last weekend connected a number of fascinating current event topics that are of great interest to me: aging, virology, vaccines, and truth in government.

I mean, you would have to be in a near-death, Tiger King pop-culture media, COVID coma not to be fascinated with the drama unfolding as we seek the truth about where the virus came from (a Wuhan Laboratory or Wet Market); what the Chinese government’s role was or was not, what they knew or didn’t know and said or didn’t say (check out this documentary suggesting it was a laboratory); and what happens next in terms of a vaccine, treatment, reinfection, and the economy (domestic and global). WOW! Get ready for another wild ride, this week in history!

As to Limits: During my science, vaccine and aging rabbit hole this weekend, I was reminded that there are some real limits to life – cellular life. The limit is called The Hayflick Limit. It turns out that our cells are mortal and after they divide ~50 times, they become zombie cells (otherwise known as senescent). While I am not quite sure how I got into this rabbit hole, I found myself reading about diploid and haploid cells, vaccines and an immortal cell line called WI-38. That led me to want to know if the WI-38 immortal cell line was the Henrietta Lacks cell line. There is a great book called “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” which is a fascinating read. You will be releived to know that the HeLa and WI-38 are different cell lines—they are two unique immortal cell lines.

But wait, I just said cells are mortal. They divide ~50 times, then become zombies (it’s the abnormal cells, like cancer cells, that never die, that are immortal). What’s even more interesting is that this wasn’t known until the 1970’s – and up until then the prevailing scientific theory was cells are immortal! The theory was that cell just died in petrie dishes for a variety of reason (contamination, etc.). It took the perserveance of an incredible scientist named Leonard Hayflick to prove this was not the case – and it took him just 10 years after his discovery! And only after they rejected his research and basically told him he was an idiot and should stick to conventional theories on science.

It turns out Dr. Haflick was right, cells are mortal. During Dr. Haflicks research he discovered and maintained the immortal cell line of WI-38. The WI-38 cell line is responsible for supporting the creation of most of the the vaccines we know today that eradicated diseases like polio and measles. But wait, not only does it take ten years to get his discovery recognized, but he gets sued by the FDA along the way in supporting the elimination of many plague-like diseases with WI-38. His story gives you a great reason to question conventional scientific wisdom at any one time or that governments act rationally in the public interest.

As to Connections: So how does this connect to anything? Well, science, public policy, debate, debunk, myth, fact or fiction—that’s how. Our world is sloshing about right now with these topics—unlike any time in our history in virulent fashion (no pun intended). This all connects further with the ongiong story of public health on widespread vaccinations. A friend referred me to another documentary, “Vaxxed.” Only available on their own website, Vaxxed that is apparently so controversial, no one will distribute it, you can watch it only from their website. The documentary details the publicized connection between autism and child vaccinations. My own take was that the movie leaves a number of questions unanswered about the theory betwen autism and vaccination, but it does an excellent job of presenting a basis to believe that the MMR combo (the 3-in-1 vaccine for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) should at least be unbundled (vacciences received one at a time) and/or administer the vaccine to children who are a little older. NOTE: I am a big believer in vaccines and their necessity for public health, but there is a good reason to be concerned about MMR and a need for better transparency on the topic.

So that was the quarantine-induced rabbit hole I entered into the connected world of science, viruses, vaccines, and government—all to find the Hayflick Limit. Read the story of Leonard Hayflick, a true American hero.