The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 5, 2001 Issue
Special Section:
Respect Life Month

Human cells and vaccines

Many vaccines have a past you may not expect

(Also see related article, "More than just a simple shot in the arm")

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Many common vaccines have been developed from, and are cultured on, human diploid cell lines. (Diploid cells are those which contain a full set of chromosomes.) The two most commonly use cell lines are:


This human cell line is derived from lung tissue of a 3-month gestation female fetus aborted in 1964. The name Wi-38, derives from the research facility that developed the cell line: WiStar, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The cell line is one of the most widely used for virus research. According to Viromed Laboratories in Minneapolis, a private, regional reference laboratory performing infectious diseases testing, "The cell line has been shown to have one of the broadest human virus spectra of any cell population that has been tested and is especially useful for isolation of rhinoviruses." (Rhinoviruses are believed to cause the common cold.)

Vaccines developed with Wi-38 cells:

• MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
• Chicken pox


This cell line has been developed from the lung tissue of a 14-week-old male fetus aborted in 1966. The name MRC-5, derives from the research facility that developed the cell line: Medical Research Council in London. The American Society for Cell Biology says MRC-5 is "routinely used worldwide in clinical practice for viral cultures."

Vaccines developed from MRC-5 cells:

• Polio
• Rabies
• Hepatitis A
• Chicken pox

There are alternative vaccines, not made from human fetal cells, for mumps, measles, polio and rabies available in the United States. Oral polio vaccines are not made from human fetal cells.

There are also alternative vaccines for rubella and hepatitis A, but they are not approved for use in the United States.

There are no alternatives for the chicken pox vaccine.

(Sources: The Guild of Catholic Doctors; Children of God for Life; Viromed; The American Society for Cell Biology; Catholic World Report;; and American Life League)

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