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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 11:07 GMT
Tissue culture
The British Medical Journal is launching a competition to decided the greatest medical breakthrough.

Present-day medical experts are championing discoveries from the last 166 years.

Yvonne Cossart, Bosch professor of infectious diseases, Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, University of Sydney is backing tissue culture.

Tissue culture provides a medium on which to grow viruses for experiments, to test drugs and to grow skin culture.

Child receiving a vaccination against polio
Cell cultures were used to develop polio vaccines

It was first used in 1949 when US researchers grew the polio virus in cultured human embryonic skin and muscle cells.

This led to ways of measuring immunity to polio and John Enders, Thomas Weller and Frederick Robbins were later awarded the Novel prize for medicine in 1953.

It has played a part in another 17 of the 52 Nobel prizes awarded.

In modern medicine, cell cultures have been used to develop polio vaccines, and cells are grown on an industrial scale to provide vaccines, antibodies and a range of products such as Factor VIII for haemophiliacs.

Tissue cultures also helped the study of organ development and the understanding of how tumours grow.

Professor Cossart says: "Without cell culture we would lack vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella and would still be dependent on much more expensive and reactogenic vaccines for polio, rabies and yellow fever.

"Our concepts of growth, differentiation, biological ageing and malignant transformation would be simplistic; and gene therapy and the use of stem cells to repopulate damaged organs or to clone individuals would be beyond imagination."




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