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What the HEK?!

What is HEK 293?

HEK 293 is a human cell line created using a kidney from a dissected unborn baby in the Netherlands between 1972 and 1973. It is the second most common cell line and is used extensively in “pharmaceutical and biomedical research”. It is also used in vaccine creation and cancer research. 

How is it used in Covid vaccines?

HEK 293 was used in the production of all three Covid vaccines currently available in the UK, in one of three ways:

  1. It was used, along with other human cell lines, to develop a genetically engineered spike protein (that the mRNA vaccine codes for) in the original development stage of the vaccine.1
  2. The ‘new technology’ Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna Vaccine were tested on HEK 293 before they began human trials. This testing is ongoing for all new batches.2
  3. Finally the ‘old technology’ Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine grew a weakened viral strain in HEK 293 cell culture, which was then sifted and refined before use, leaving only tiny cell components and DNA debris.3

What does HEK 293 stand for?

Its name has two components.

Firstly, the HEK stands for “Human Embryonic Kidney”. The kidney in question was dissected from a healthy Dutch baby girl of unknown origin by the team at Leiden University in the Netherlands in 1972. Despite the inclusion of the term “embryonic” in the title, the baby in question was probably 12-13 weeks old when she was killed so as to secure functioning kidney cells.4 The man in charge of the research was named Alex Jan Van der Eb; he is still alive and still based in Holland. 

When questioned on the matter by the FDA in 2001, Dr Van der Eb confirmed it was an intentional abortion of a ‘fetus’ but gave a hazy details of the exact experiments.

“So the kidney material, the fetal kidney material was as follows: the kidney of the fetus was, with an unknown family history, obtained in 1972 probably. The precise date is not known anymore. The fetus, as far as I can remember, was completely normal. Nothing was wrong. The reasons for the abortion were unknown to me. I probably knew it at that time, but it got lost, all this information”.5

He also confirmed doing the dissection personally stating:

“Both cell lines [HEK 293 and PER.C6] were made in my lab, and also the cells, the starting material, was prepared by myself at the University of Leiden”.6 

The 293 stands for the number of experiments it took another researcher, a Canadian named Frank Graham, to genetically engineer the cells to grow indefinitely in an artificial environment.  He did this using a novel method known as the “calcium technique”. The cell line that resulted was robust, fast growing, easy to transect with foreign DNA and able to produce large amounts of recombinant protein. The final characteristic made it highly desirable in vaccine production.7 

How were the HEK cells originally obtained?

Due to the conveniently missing records it is impossible to say exactly how the HEK cells were originally obtained or how many unborn baby “specimens” were required in total. However this does not mean nothing is known. On 27th October 2003, ethicist Alvin Wong wrote to Dr Van der Eb by email, seeking to clarify the matter. Dr Van der Eb confirmed the records had been lost, consistent with the FDA above statement but also admitted to working with tissue from both induced abortion and spontaneous abortion.8 

Using this information many have assumed the best of the HEK line, suggesting that it could have been from a natural miscarriage however a more careful assessment of fetal tissue procurement techniques for other fetal cell lines, makes this a blindly optimistic reading. This is because extracting and growing living cells is incredibly difficult. In order to give oneself the best chance of success you need to ensure the child is healthy, fresh, intact and sterile. As one embryologist and Emeritus Professor of Anatomy confirms:

"In order to sustain 95% of the cells, the live tissue would need to be preserved within 5 minutes of the abortion. Within an hour the cells would continue to deteriorate, rendering the specimens useless."9


Another common cell line, used in the MMR vaccine, is WI-38. Like HEK 293, the title tells us a lot about its origins.

WI stands for the Wistar Institute, a research facility in Pennsylvania. 38 denotes the number of experiments that were conducted on unborn babies in order to create it. Its creation gives us a revealing insight into the process used.

According to the WI-38 Wikipedia page, the mother did not give consent before the baby was used. 

Unborn babies chosen specifically for this purpose

The first thing to note is that these abortions were planned. While it is possible that the corpse of miscarried babies may have been dissected by Dr Van der Eb, it is highly unlikely their body parts were helpful in the production of HEK 293 because miscarried babies are less likely to be healthy and you cannot predict when they will be birthed. 

This becomes clear when assessing WI-38. Answering questions about WI-38, the lead researcher in the US, Leonard Hayflick, confirmed his colleague in Sweden, Dr Sven Gard, had carefully chosen the unborn baby based on its health. Writing in a medical Q and A paper he stated: 

“This fetus was chosen by Dr Sven Gard, specifically for this purpose. Both parents are known, and unfortunately for the story, they are married to each other, still alive and well, and living in Stockholm, presumably. The abortion was done because they felt they had too many children. There were no familial diseases in the history of either parent, and no history of cancer specifically in the families."10

More recent cell lines like the WalVax 2, confirm the practice to be on going. In the paper accompanying the cell line it stated [emphasis added]:

"We obtained 9 fetuses through rigorous screening based on carefully specified inclusion criteria"

Unborn babies dissected under specialised conditions

Following on from selection, the research team then needs to coordinate the abortionist and technicians to procure intact organs that are alive and sterile. 

In order for the organs to be at ‘optimal viability’, the child needs to be dissected and organs extracted within 5 minutes of delivery. Anaesthetic also cannot be used so as to not change the cellular activity of the organs the researcher wants to obtain.11

Nature reported, Meredith Wadman casts some ambiguity on these events when she states the “female, 20 centimetres long” was “wrapped in a sterile green cloth” and delivered to the Karolinska Institute in northwest Stockholm”. What she doesn’t specify is there is a large university hospital adjacent to the institute meaning the “delivery” could have taken place in a matter of minutes.  Other authoritative testimonies attest this fact. 

Acclaimed Doctor, Ian Donald, the pioneer of the ultrasound scanner, also claims to have witnessed the WI-38 dissections, conducted at the Karolinska Institute, he described them such:

"Experiments were being performed on near-term alive aborted babies who were not even afforded the mercy of anesthetic as they writhed and cried in agony, and when their usefulness had expired, they were executed and discarded as garbage."12

In his dense book "The Foetus As Transplant Donor the Scientific, Social, and Ethical Perspectives", immunologist Dr Peter McCullagh relays detailed descriptions of the methods used on dozens of “fetal tissue donors” from the 1970’s onward, including the deaths of babies between 7 and 26 weeks gestation by decapitations, exposure, dissection and drug testing.13 Gynaecologist and ex-abortionist Dr Bernard Nathanson, relaying his own understanding of abortion, and citing McCullagh’s book claims the Swedish experiments took place thus:

“...in Sweden they have been puncturing the sac of a pregnant woman at let us say 14 to 16 weeks, and then they put a clamp on the head of the baby, pull the head down into the neck of the womb, drill a hole into the baby’s head, and then put a suction machine into the brain and suck out the brain cells….. Healthy human fetuses from 7 to 21 weeks from legal abortions were used. This is in Sweden. The conception age was estimated from crown rump length and so on. Fetal liver and kidney were rapidly removed and weighed. Now at 21 weeks, what they were doing, or 18 weeks, or 16 weeks, was what is called prostaglandin abortions. They would inject a substance into the womb. The woman would then go into mini-labor and pass this baby. 50% of the time, the baby would be born alive, but that didn’t stop them. They would just simply open up the abdomen of the baby with no anesthesia, and take out the liver and kidneys, etc.” 

A research paper from the University of Toronto from June 1952 commenting on the method of their experiments suggests that these techniques were universal with researchers working in close proximity to the abortions.

"No macerated specimens were used and in many of the embryos the heart was still beating at the time of receipt in the virus laboratory."

Unborn babies delivered by C-section to prevent contamination

The third thing to note in the extraction process is sterility. 

The most skilled abortionists can achieve this to some degree using surgical abortion techniques, however it is thought delivery by caesarean section or hysterectomy to be the abortion “par excellence”  for fetal tissue harvesting.14 

According to Gonzalo Herranz, former head of the Committee of Medical Ethics of Spanish doctors, the best way to prevent “contamination by microorganisms” is to deliver the child by caesarean section or the removal of the uterus.15

A 1982 review of a history of tissue donation affirms this, and much of the above evidence:

"Fetal tissue for transplantation must be 'harvested' within a few minutes of delivery. Ideally this is by hysterectomy, with the fetus delivered in utero. Drugs which reduce fetal physiological activity need to be avoided. The fetus is therefore in as alive and aware a state as possible when being opened."

More modern methods, like in the creation of cell line WalVax 2 in 2015 in China, involved inducing a birth and keeping the baby in its own amniotic sac or ‘water bag’ until the moment of dissection.

Thirteen years after Dr Alex Van der Eb (working with Dr Graham) created HEK 293, he created a separate cell line named PER.C6 out of a separate unborn child intentionally killed in a social abortion at 18 weeks old. These three factors of parental screening, intact extraction and sterility are inferred in his description of the experiment to the FDA. He states [emphasis added]:

“So I isolated the retina from a fetus, from a healthy fetus as far as could be seen, of eighteen weeks old. There was nothing special with the family history or the pregnancy was completely normal up to the eighteen weeks, and it turned out to be a socially indicated abortus—abortus provocatus, and that was simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus”16

The cells in question were isolated, and frozen in liquid nitrogen until 1995, at which point they were thawed “for the generation of the PER.C6 cells”.17

Therefore by examining the creation of other better documented cell lines and by assessing Dr Van der Eb’s own description of a subsequent experiment, it becomes increasingly implausible to suggest that HEK 293 was obtained by ethical means. 

In his book "The Ethics of HEK 293" Alvin Wong concludes that although there cannot be “moral certainty” around HEK 293:

"...it seems more likely that the tissue would be from an induced abortion. The convenience of getting tissue from routine, elective abortions compared to waiting for an unforeseen miscarriage supports this likelihood."

How many babies' organs did Dr Van der Eb harvest before the baby girl whose kidney was used to make HEK-293?

In the absence of documentation it is not clear how many fresh samples of fetal tissue were required by Frank Graham (and supplied by Alex Van der Eb) in order to achieve his ground breaking cell line. While it is unlikely that 293 unborn babies were dissected in the production of HEK 293, some experts suggest it was over 100.18

While in the absence of hard facts, there can be cause to assume the best, we urge readers instead to consider carefully the implications of other experiments of this nature.

We know that in the creation of WI-38, 32 babies were killed and dissected.19 Add in the additional experiments to get the rubella virus and subsequent experiments to test it, and the total comes to 99 unborn babies killed. We also know that at least 5 babies were killed in the production of MRC-5 in 1970 and 9 babies in the production of WalVax 2 in 2015.

In light of these facts, small figures seem increasingly unlikely. At the very least we must concede that the notion that the Covid vaccine has arisen in part from “one tragic abortion” is false and can only be held in intentional ignorance to the facts.

Sign Petition Ethical Vaccines



  1. Taken from Children of God for life website: “This US patent describes how they made RNA molecules encoding fusion proteins (like the spike protein) and tested them in development. They used a variety of cell lines, HEK293 among them, but do not specify which cell line they used for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
  2. The FDA guidance specifies “that each batch of medication will meet quality standards so they are safe and effective”- by implication this means each new batch will be tested on human cells before dispatch. 
  3. Deisher et al, 2015, Epidemiologic and Molecular relationship between vaccine Manufacture and Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevalence, examines the possible impact of DNA fragments left in old technology vaccines after centrifuge. 
  4.  Embryo had a slightly different meaning in the 60’s-70’s and wasn’t reserved to only very young fetuses. 
  5. FDA 2001, Vaccine and Related Biological Product Advisory Committee. P81, [14-22] It has been taken down from their website but an unedited copy can be found here
  6.  FDA 2001, Vaccine and Related Biological Product Advisory Committee. P77, [11-12]. It has been taken down from their website but an unedited copy can be found here
  7.  The initial experiment can be read here
  8. A paper by Dr Alvin Wong, who claims to have communicated with Van der Eb via email in 2003, this is recorded in his paper "The Ethics of HEK293" available here. P475 
  9. Dr C Ward Kischer, embryologist and Emeritus Professor of Anatomy; specialist in Human Embryology, University of Arizona College of Medicine (Tucson, Arizona) Personal interview with Debra Vinnedge 7-02, ALL Conference
  10. G Sven, S Plotkin, K McCarthy, Gamma Globulin Prophylaxis; Inactivated Rubella Virus; Production and Biological Control of Live Attenuated Rubella Virus Vaccines; Amer J Dis Child Vol, available here
  11. Drugs which reduce fetal physiological activity need to be avoided. The fetus is therefore in as alive and aware a state as possible when being opened” quoted Alderson, Prescilla (footnote 14).
  12.  Dr Ian Donald described the experiments he had personally witnessed at Karolinska - all in the name of science
  13. 1988-06-01; Marx, Paul; Confessions of a Pro-Life Missionary; https://www.amazon.com/dp/155922021X
  14. McCullagh, Peter, "The Foetus as Transplant Donor - Scientific, Social and Ethical Perspectives" (1987) p106
  15. 1986-04-26; Herranz, Gonzalo; Il Sabato, no 15; A reply to a previous article in the same journal by Paolo Cucchiarelli and Marina Ricci
  16. FDA 2001 Vaccine and Related Biological Product Advisory Committee. P 91. It has been taken down from their website but an unedited copy can be found here
  17. FDA 2001 Vaccine and Related Biological Product Advisory Committee. P 92. It has been taken down from their website but an unedited copy can be found here
  18. Acker, Pamela, Vaccines: A Catholic Perspective (2020).
  19. This figure is reached by assessing the methodology of two experiment papers written by Hayflick. The first co-authored with Moore head  in 1961 found here, the second in  1964 found here