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A Growing Multi-Billion-Dollar Pharmaceutical Industry Fueled by the HEK293 Cell

December 29, 2023

by Dr. Alan Moy, MD and Caroline Bafundo

In 1970, Dr. Frank Graham, a scientist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, successfully cultured a cell line in a way that made it possible for it to be used for future medical research. The cell line was manufactured from the kidney cells of a first trimester unborn female

child whose parents were unknown. It is presumed that this unborn child was electively aborted. Also, it is not known whether informed consent from the parents was ever obtained. That cell line received the abbreviated name HEK293 – which stands for human embryonic kidney. The 293 designation refers to the number of attempts required to create this immortalized cell line. Unfortunately, this sad story does not end in a lab in the Netherlands in the 1970's. Fifty years later, the HEK293 cell line represents the backbone of countless therapeutics, diagnostics and research reagentswhich generate billions of dollars for the biopharmaceutical industry. There have been several previous articles 

that have focused on the bioethics of the HEK293 cell line. In this essay, we take a different approach by examining the scientific and economic impact of the HEK293 cell line on Catholic consumers, healthcare providers and the Catholic hospital system.

To read the full essay about the pharmaceutical industry's involvement of HEK293 stem cells, click here.

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