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Rights: The University of Waikato
Published 1 May 2006

Normally, cells from your body die after a certain length of time. They have an in-built suicide mechanism. This is natural. Cells that are used for cell lines need to keep growing forever. They have to be immortalised.

The cells can keep growing forever as long as they are provided with sufficient nutrients, but they will always only be individual cells. They will never be able to grow back into a whole organism.


Dr Martin Philpott (Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland)

We’re using cell based models. These are systems whereby human cells from a particular part of the body are grown in tissue culture, which means in a liquid medium which provides them all the nutrients they need to survive, and they are grown in an incubator which is kept at 37 degrees, in which the cells continue dividing. They will grow more or less indefinitely until they run out of nutrients. So if you keep feeding them, they are essentially immortal. They will grow forever.

If you don’t really understand the technology and what is going on behind the thing, then saying I’m growing a little piece of a person in my lab does sound rather Frankensteinien, and so that’s why I was trying to make it clear that these cells grow in a layer on the bottom of the flask. They look like the picture that’s being projected behind me, and they don’t have the ability to grow back into a person, or even the organ that were extracted from.We’re really using them just as a tool.