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.
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.

Sure, do your own research, but…

You’ve probably heard this one:

“PLEASE do your own research! Vaccines are poison. There’s so much misinformation here. Look at the package inserts provided by the CDC. They list autism and SIDS as possible side effects. All this talk about Dr. Wakefield being a fraud and the pro vaxers never even bothered to read the package inserts for themselves. My daughter regressed into autism after a vaccine. Kids all over are dying of SIDS, which is the convenient title that doctors give to babies who die from vaccines. Not to mention allergies, asthma, ADHD, and all other illnesses brought on by vaccines. When America realizes that vaccines don’t make sense, we’ll be healthier for it!”

You’ve probably heard the “do your own research!” part, that is. The rest you’ve probably heard as well, but that’s not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is the “own research” that these people want you to do. Yes, you can do research on your own, but…

But you need a solid scientific base on which to base that research. Without knowing what you are reading, you are very likely to be deceived. You’re likely to believe the lies of the anti-science forces out there. You need to know what is scientifically plausible and what isn’t.

For example, if you read a paper from an obscure source, claiming that homeopathy works, you will tend to believe it if: A) You desperately want to believe, and/or B) you don’t know how basic math and chemistry rules-out the possibility that homeopathy works.

Likewise, if you don’t know how the light spectrum works, and how prisms are used to visualize the spectrum, and that water droplets work as prisms… Oh, forget the science. If you don’t know how rainbows work, you might be this lady:

See, she thinks that rainbows are a sign that the water is contaminated. I bet it’s because she’s seen the sheen on water surfaces after oil or oil-derived compounds are spilled onto them.

If you don’t have a solid base of biology, immunology, and chemistry, you may be inclined to believe that vaccines cause all sorts of evils. If you’re not an epidemiologist who understand causality, you might think that vaccines do cause autism because autism diagnoses are made after vaccination. (Diagnoses are also made after car rides, eating cereal, getting a scrape, teeth coming out, but that doesn’t make any of that be the cause to the effect.)

So, sure, do your own research, but make sure that you are educated in the things you are researching. Most scientific concepts are not easy to understand with a quick view via Google. You need to know what you are looking at, if it is plausible, and the science behind what you are observing.

I’ll tackle the rest of that comment later, if I feel like it.

That whole aborted fetus thing

Those who know me well know that I’m not big on the pro-life people. I totally understand their objections to abortion, most of those objections, anyway. I just don’t understand their obsession with telling women what to do with their bodies or telling people in general what healthcare decisions they should make in consultations with a healthcare provider. Well, one of the objections to vaccination that I hear a lot is that vaccines “contain aborted fetus cells”. This is akin to me saying that the house dust around me, uh, house contains dead people.

Let me explain…

Let’s establish some quick facts. First, vaccines have saved millions of lives and millions of dollars in resources by preventing diseases that kill or disable people of all ages. Second, whether we like it or not, we live in a utilitarian society, where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It’s sad, especially when you think of kids with a very rare genetic disease who have no hope for a cure because there is virtually no funding for research. But that’s the way things are. Third, it is our responsibility as moral and ethical human beings to learn from tragedies and wrongs so that some good can come of them. This is why surgeons write-up their worst mistakes, pilots give courses on accidents they’ve had, and recovering drug addicts speak to audiences of at-risk youths.

When someone who dies donates their organs, they are making a contribution to society that is very difficult to compare. Out of a tragedy comes life for others. This is the case with respect to the two cell lines currently used in the United States to make vaccines. First, let’s recap real quick how some viral vaccines are made.

Viruses, if you remember, are small organisms that replicate strictly inside of cells. Viruses don’t have their own multiplication mechanism. Because of this, it is necessary to have cells in petri dishes in a lab in order to grow viruses to study them and then make vaccines. These cells had to come from somewhere, and scientists have tried many different types of cells. They’ve tried cells from animals, from insects, from plants. They have tried kidney cells, lung cells, brain cells, etcetera.

In the 1960’s, two fetuses were aborted. One was 3 months gestation, and the other was 14 weeks gestation. One was a girl, and the other was a boy. Cells from their lungs were taken and grown in the lab. Those cells multiplied and created other cells. Then different viruses were placed in those cells and found to grow. Not only did the viruses just grow, but they grew well. The cells multiplied at a good rate. They were able to keep a steady supply of cells for research. The viruses placed in those cells also grew well. They were able to be attenuated and otherwise used for vaccines.

It’s been over 40 years since these cell lines were harvested from aborted fetuses and used to create life-saving vaccines. The cells in those petri dishes – simplifying a bit – are the daughters of the daughters of the granddaughters of the… Well, you get the point. The cells we have today are generations removed from the original fetal cells. Just like my cells are not the cells of my great grandfather. Just like the house dust is not me anymore. Know what I mean?

So, yeah, it’s a tragedy that those fetuses were aborted. Abortion is one of those things I wish didn’t exist. But to say that I can’t use a vaccine to prevent a deadly disease because cells used today for growing the vaccine strain of the viruses are derived from cells cultivated 40+ years ago? That’s one heck of a stretch. It’s not like we’re aborting fetuses left and right to make vaccines, for crying out loud.