What happens in mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab stays in mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab

An anti-vaccine advocate – and a very angry one in my opinion – posted the following abstract of a research paper on her blog:

Hepatitis B vaccine induces apoptotic death in Hepa1-6 cells.Hamza H, Cao J, Li X, Li C, Zhu M, Zhao S.
Source Key Lab of Agricultural Animal Genetics, Breeding, and Reproduction of Ministry of Education, College of Animal Science and Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, People’s Republic of China.
Heyam68_hamza@yahoo.com
AbstractVaccines can have adverse side-effects, and these are predominantly associated with the inclusion of chemical additives such as aluminum hydroxide adjuvant. The objective of this study was to establish an in vitro model system amenable to mechanistic investigations of cytotoxicity induced by hepatitis B vaccine, and to investigate the mechanisms of vaccine-induced cell death. The mouse liver hepatoma cell line Hepa1-6 was treated with two doses of adjuvanted (aluminium hydroxide) hepatitis B vaccine (0.5 and 1 μg protein per ml) and cell integrity was measured after 24, 48 and 72 h. Hepatitis B vaccine exposure increased cell apoptosis as detected by flow cytometry and TUNEL assay. Vaccine exposure was accompanied by significant increases in the levels of activated caspase 3, a key effector caspase in the apoptosis cascade. Early transcriptional events were detected by qRT-PCR. We report that hepatitis B vaccine exposure resulted in significant upregulation of the key genes encoding caspase 7, caspase 9, Inhibitor caspase-activated DNase (ICAD), Rho-associated coiled-coil containing protein kinase 1 (ROCK-1), and Apoptotic protease activating factor 1 (Apaf-1). Upregulation of cleaved caspase 3,7 were detected by western blot in addition to Apaf-1 and caspase 9 expressions argues that cell death takes place via the intrinsic apoptotic pathway in which release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria triggers the assembly of a caspase activation complex. We conclude that exposure of Hepa1-6 cells to a low dose of adjuvanted hepatitis B vaccine leads to loss of mitochondrial integrity, apoptosis induction, and cell death, apoptosis effect was observed also in C2C12 mouse myoblast cell line after treated with low dose of vaccine (0.3, 0.1, 0.05 μg/ml). In addition In vivo apoptotic effect of hepatitis B vaccine was observed in mouse liver.

I realize that’s a lot of digest. As I wrote before, yes, you can do your own research, but you need to know what you are looking at and looking for so you don’t end up looking like a fool on your own anti-vaccine blogs. And I write “blogs” because more than a few anti-vaccine blogs looked at this paper, called it a “study”, and drew their conclusion that the hepatitis B vaccine is a horrible, horrible thing. Let’s look at the key things you need to know to understand this research paper and not be so scared so as to ignore the proper science behind its findings.
First, you need to know what apoptosis is. Not only is it the name of the journal in which this paper was published, it is also the scientific term for “programmed cell death” or just “cell death”. See, biological organisms are always reproducing. It’s not an accident that teenagers are so horny. We’re programmed to eat, grow, and reproduce. Eat. Grow. And reproduce. Everything from single-celled bacteria to whales all eat, grow, and reproduce. But we can’t reproduce forever. Some of our cells need to die to make way for the newer cells. As a result, mechanisms in our cells trigger cell death. Without apoptosis, we would have cancer.

Second, you need to know what “in vitro” means. In vitro is scientific jargon for “happening in a test tube” or “happening in a petri dish”. Basically, in vitro is something that happens in a lab and outside a living, breathing organism. This research was done just that way, in vitro. It wasn’t done in a living mouse. It wasn’t done in a primate. So it wasn’t done in a human. (But our anti-vaccine “friend” is trying to point out the horrors of the hepatitis B vaccine with this paper.) Yes, they mentioned something in the end: “In addition In vivo apoptotic effect of hepatitis B vaccine was observed in mouse liver.” We’ll address that in a second or two.

Third, you need to know what kind of cells were used. They were not human cells. They were not primate cells. They were mouse cells. In fact, they were mouse liver cells. Were they regular mouse liver cells? Nope. They were mouse liver cells from a hepatoma, a liver tumor. So they were already abnormal cells to begin with. Remember what I wrote about apoptosis up there? Without apoptosis we get cancer? These researchers are trying to draw conclusions about apoptosis as it relates to the hepatitis B vaccine using mouse liver cells from a mouse with liver cancer. (But our anti-vaccine “friend” is trying to point out the horrors of the hepatitis B vaccine with this paper. No, that’s not a typo. I’m emphasizing her aim as I emphasize the non-weight of the study she cites.)

Fourth, you need to know what they did. They poured hepatitis B vaccine over the mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in lab conditions and measured how many cells were alive after certain periods of time. They also measured chemicals put out by the cells at those times. They concluded, quite right, that pouring vaccine over mouse cancer cells in a petri dish leads to changes at the molecular level of the cells, so much so that they begin dying. Big surprise. Here’s why…

Living, breathing biological systems are quite complex. When we are immunized, our bodies begin to work on the vaccines from the moment they enter our skin, muscles, airway, or gut. (Contrary to what anti-vaccine people will tell you, vaccines are not given straight into the bloodstream.) The cells around the vaccine site begin to metabolize, break down, the vaccine. White blood cells respond to the site to begin the process of identifying the attenuated pathogen or bit of pathogen and begin production of antibodies for immunity. The whole thing takes many steps in many places beginning at the site of immunization and ending at the site where the byproducts of the vaccine exit our body – like the intestines, the kidneys, or, yes, the liver (which leads to the intestines).

People seem to think that hepatitis vaccines, because they are aimed at protecting the liver, somehow act upon the liver. This is not the case in humans. The vaccine acts upon our immune system, which creates antibodies to be on “standby” to protect the liver. When you get exposed to hepatitis B, the virus doesn’t enter the liver directly. It needs to elude the immune system and find your liver. This is why not everyone who is exposed gets sick, though they still make antibodies to show exposure.

In short, you and I are made up of trillions of cells which make up dozens of types of tissues and organs, and they all work together to protect and repair each other. Mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab stood no chance no matter what you threw at them, short of nutritive broth. You could have put deionized water in there and see them swell up and explode due to osmosis. You could have put water with a high salt content in there and see them shrivel. Does that mean that drinking water will make your liver explode? Of course not! Our entire body will work together to keep osmotic pressures at a balance. That’s why you pee, to keep water levels in check.

But that’s not what the anti-vaccine people read into this. They just read the title of the paper, called it a “study”, and ran away with the results. Why? Because it suits their needs. Because they don’t understand the science. Because they want to scare you.

Oh, and about that last sentence in the abstract: Without having the full paper in hand, we cannot conclude a single thing about what happened “in vivo” (the scientific jargon for having occurred within a living organism). For all we know, the human vaccine is bad for mice, or they injected it right into their liver. But all that is speculation unless I have more information. I won’t speculate. I’m not an antivaxer.

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2 thoughts on “What happens in mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab stays in mouse liver cancer cells in a petri dish in a lab

  1. Forgot to tell you how much I love the title of this post. Also, it is so apropos because as you stated, dump anything on naked cells (short of nutrient broth) and negative effects will be observed. If aluminium-adjuvanted Hep b vaccine was causing hepatocellular damage then this would be a valid pilot study to elucidate part of the mechanism but since that is not the case, this "study" is a sophomoric exercise at best.

  2. I guarantee that your anti-vaxxer just read the abstract. Not that it matters really for even when they do have a full text, they merely skim the introduction and discussion and completely skip over the methods and results. And even then there is the additional barrier that you mentioned and that is not being able to parse a study properly.If these anti-vaxxers were concerned with looking foolish, they wouldn't make the claims they do in the first place.

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