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The Origin of Hela Cells

By Edited Mar 23, 2016 0 2

Hela cells are the most widely used cell line in cell and tissue culture laboratories. It is this very cell line that was used to discover the polio vaccine.

Hela cells were first taken from Henrietta Lacks who died of cervical cancer. Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix at Johns Hopkins Hospital in November 1950. The gynaecologist sent a cervical biopsy to the pathology lab for inspection. Unfortunately she died as the biopsy was being carried out. However, the scientist at the lab called George Otto Gey decided to grow cells extracted from the biopsy. He discovered that the cells where capable of growing indefinitely in cell culture flasks. He decided to call it HeLa cells after the 2 letters derived from Henrietta Lacks.

Hela Cell Line
George decided to send the cells to various labs across the country. Today Hela cells are being used in almost all biological labs for scientific research. Its unique feature to divide abnormally makes it very useful as it can be easily maintained in incubators. The scientific reason for its immortality has been attributed to its active form of "Telomerase". Telomerases have been implicated in aging the process. It is suggested that as cells divided telomeres at the end of chromosomes shortens and ultimately the cell dies. The active form of telomerase prevents the shortening of the chromosomes of Hela cells.

Today a lot of controversy has surrounded the Hela cell line. The cells taken from Henrietta Lacks were grown in flasks and even cultured to be sold to research labs around the world. Hela cells today are produced in large numbers from the very cell line taken in 1951 by various biological companies specialising in cells. The immediate family of Henrietta Lacks were unaware of the issue till a few years back. The demands are that she is given sainthood for her contribution to science.


Oct 5, 2010 10:38am
Your story is somewhat inaccurate. I suggest you read 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'. She did succumb to cancer but she did not die during her biopsy.
Oct 25, 2011 10:43am
Actually she did die of cervical cancer. I have read the book, I suggest you do as well.
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