Linda Cortile Harbors Immortal Blood Cells?
Simple Questions With Big Implications
Dr. Tyler Kokjohn, Ph.D.
Professor of Microbiology
If you could potentially save thousands of human lives with virtually no risk to yourself, would you do it? Probably most of us would feel a compelling moral duty to act under such circumstances. If the assertion that Linda Cortile harbors immortal blood cells is true, it is no mere medical curiosity. This would represent an unparalleled opportunity to improve global human health profoundly.
In humans and other mammals, red blood cells (erythrocytes) lack nuclei and other organelles like mitochondria. With limited biochemical capacities, human red cells normally have a finite lifetime of around 3-4 months in circulation. Worn out cells are removed and replaced constantly. If Linda Cortile possesses immortal cells, she would represent something totally new to medicine.
Sedimented human red blood cells (MDougM) Frog red blood cells (Luis Fernandez Garcia)
Whether her condition was the result of alien genetic tinkering or completely natural, the implications to medical practice would be immense. Looking at the proteins and other structures, scientists could determine the specific alterations conferring such amazing resilience to her cells. In turn, that might make it possible to engineer the production of immortal blood cells on an unlimited basis.
A supply of immortal blood cells could decrease the presently heavy demand for transfusions. Although life-saving, transfusions carry significant risks and have been integral in spreading infections like hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) across the globe. In addition, a major problem of blood banking – the limited lifetime of blood cells in storage – would be solved. The high costs and efforts associated with the need for constant collection of fresh supplies from donors would be decreased dramatically.
U. S. Navy Photo by Mass Communications Spec. Don Bray
But would cells tough enough to be immortal also resist other threats like malaria in which parasites invade and multiply within erythrocytes? The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 300 million cases of malaria occur each year resulting in more than one million deaths. Perhaps other infectious disease agents that attack red cells to access their iron stores and other nutrients would be inhibited as well. If pathogen resistant, immortal blood cell supplies could be developed, the direct benefits to human health would be hard to quantify.
Malaria falciparum inside red cells (Michael Zahniser)
Have immortal cells been seen before? Some cell lines with alterations associated with cancer seem to have an apparently unlimited capacity to divide and grow. One of the more famous cell lines utilized in research is designated ‘HeLa’ denoting its original source as a cervical cancer explant taken from patient Henrietta Lacks over sixty years ago. Ms. Lacks is deceased, but the HeLa cell line lives on. Another interesting case is the ‘Mo’ cell line derived from samples obtained from a patient (the late John Moore) with hairy cell leukemia. The Mo cell line turned out to be quite valuable and launched a legal battle with far-reaching implications.
Does Ms. Cortile harbor immortal blood cells? In one sense, that is impossible to prove definitively because such things would outlive any of us. But, if she has cells that are analogous to the HeLa line, for all practical purposes we could consider them immortal. Blood testing is safe and routine, and it would seem a straightforward matter to determine if her cells can be stored for long periods without degradation or possess other biophysical deviations compared to the normal red cells of humans. Whether or not one feels a demonstration of quasi-immortal cells supports her alien abduction claims, the implications for human health and well-being seem to warrant the effort. It is hard to imagine that someone has not already attempted to verify this remarkable and long-standing assertion. Perhaps an attendee at a future seminar featuring Ms. Cortile will be kind enough to ask a question or two for me regarding where the matter stands.