Constructing Failure: Leonard Hayflick, Biomedicine, and the Problems with Tissue Culture
Park, Hyung Wook
Date of Issue2015
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
By examining the use of tissue culture in post-war American biomedicine, this paper investigates how scientists experience and manage failure. I study how Leonard Hayflick forged his new definition of failure and ways of managing it by refuting Alexis Carrel's definition of failure alongside his theory of the immortality of cultured cells. Unlike Carrel, Hayflick claimed that every vertebrate somatic cell should eventually die, unless it transformed into a tumour cell. This claim defined cell death, which had been a problem leading to a laboratory failure, as a normal phenomenon. On the other hand, permanent life, which had been considered a normal cellular characteristic, became a major factor causing scientific failure, since it implied malignant transformation that scientists hoped to control. Hayflick then asserted that his cell strains and method would partly enable scientists to manage this factor—especially that occurred through viral infection—alongside other causes of failure in routine tasks, including bacterial contamination. I argue that the growing biomedical enterprise fostered this work of Hayflick's, which had repercussions in both his career and the uses of cells in diverse investigations. His redefinition of failure in the age of biomedicine resulted in the broad dissemination of his cells, medium, and method as well as his long struggle with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which caused his temporarily failed career.
Annals of Science
© 2015 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by Annals of Science, Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: [http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00033790.2015.1057764].