hela cell

Ever since I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I just can’t stop thinking about Henrietta and her family, and the implications their story has on every single one of us.

I don’t know what’s more upsetting:

  • The fact that doctors took a sample of Henrietta’s cells without her knowledge or consent, experimented on them and later tried to bury her identity by calling the HeLa cell donor: “Helen Lane” and other monikers.
  • The fact that the same doctors some 20 years later went to her surviving family members and took blood samples purportedly to “test them for cancer,” when they really wanted to study their genetic makeup to continue their experiments. They never explained this to the family. They lied, plain and simple.
  • The fact that all of us have benefited from the experiments on Henrietta’s cells, which led to the creation of vaccines and furthered biomedical research. And yet many of us don’t know about Henrietta’s unwitting contribution.
  • The fact that, despite all this, her family was never recompensed by the scientists who appropriated Henrietta’s cells.

That doesn’t even touch upon the racial implications of how society and science mistreats people of color, and the personal tolls experienced by the Lacks family after they lost their mother.

And I can’t help but wonder, if this happened to the Lacks family, how many other people has this happened to? Millions? Has this already happened to me? Or to you? We would never know b/c apparently doctors can still take and use our cells without our knowledge or consent as long as they keep the sample anonymous. And that is just… fucked up and scary.

Henrietta Lacks

Though she died of cervical cancer in 1951, her cells were discovered to have unique properties. These immortal “HeLa” cells were instrumental in developing the polio vaccine as well as other key scientific landmarks including cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization. Yet, her story has raised controversial questions about the ethics surrounding privacy & patient consent. Who was this unrecognized woman?

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January 29, 1951 Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old mother of five visited John’s Hopkins Hospital due to vaginal spotting. At Hopkin’s, the only hospital servicing African Americans, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The head of tissue culture, Dr. George Gey, stole a piece of her tissue without Henrietta’s knowledge or consent. Unfortunately, this was completely legal.

Dr. Gey referred to himself as the “world’s most famous vulture, feeding on human specimens almost constantly,” and if that’s not the most chilling thing a doctor has said I don’t know what is. When he stole Henrietta Lacks’s cells, he was researching tissue cultures and attempting to sustain them long enough to study. Because her cancer cells can divide indefinitely in culture, so long as they have a continuous supply of nutrients, they’re called “immortal cells.”

Henrietta’s cell line doubled every 24 hours and Dr. Gey sent these cells to cancer researchers across the world. In 1952, at the Tuskegee institute, Henrietta’s cells (HeLa cells) were being mass produced and eventually sold commercially. Due to these cells, there has and continues to be an enormous amount of medical advancement. The development of the polio vaccine, the first cloned cell, radiation exposure testing, cancer transmission testing (through injection into other patients, another terrible tragedy) and other advancements are owed to Henrietta Lacks. The sale of her cells boomed as a multi-million dollar industry.

The Lacks family meanwhile, had very little information about Henrietta’s cells. There were a few published articles out of the state of Virgina , where the Lacks’ family resides, but it’s speculated that Dr. Gey attempted to cover up the discovery of Henrietta Lacks’s identity by giving false information about her name. The family was poor and even struggled to cover the costs of their own healthcare. Although the story of Henrietta Lacks came out, to this day, the Lacks family hasn’t received a single cent of the profits made off of her cells.

As potential physicians and caregivers, I think we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the injustices the medical community has committed. I was informed of this by my biology teacher, and I felt compelled to share with all of you.

Please let me know if any of this information is incorrect!

Henrietta Lacks (HeLa), inspired by the biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

An illustration concerning Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa cells (cancer cells taken from her cervix and found to be ‘immortal’ cells that could live in a lab setting and be used to conduct research using human cells). I wanted to have the cells surrounding her, brightly colored, while she was more monochromatic so as to portray how we have thousands of pictures of her cells, but only two battered, black and white pictures of her.

Despite how much her cells have done for humans (helped vaccinations against polio, HPV, etc., as well as help further understand DNA, chromosomes, genetics, cancer cells, etc.), barely anyone knows who she was and how her family members have been treated over the past fifty years. 

The book itself is great and there were a lot of really great women mentioned. Anyone interested in feminism, civil rights, ethical issues in medical research, cancer biology and genetics, or all of the above will get a lot from this biography of an awesome woman and her family, as well as the doctors and scientists involved in HeLa.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was only 31 when she died of cervical cancer in 1951 in a Baltimore hospital. Not long before her death, doctors removed some of her tumor cells. They later discovered that the cells could thrive in a lab, a feat no human cells had achieved before.

Soon the cells, called HeLa cells, were being shipped from Baltimore around the world. In the 62 years since — twice as long as Ms. Lacks’s own life — her cells have been the subject of more than 74,000 studies, many of which have yielded profound insights into cell biology, vaccines, in vitro fertilization and cancer. Lacks’s case has sparked legal and ethical debates over the rights of an individual to his or her genetic material and tissue. (Source)

HeLa cells, an immortalized cell line

Frequently, scientists try to understand how the cells in our body behave by culturing them in a dish. But normal cells eventually stop dividing and die, so studying cells that can grow “forever” has become an invaluable tool in scientific research. These are HeLa cells, the first immortalized cell line ever established by scientists. HeLa cells are cervical cancer cells that were surgically removed in the 1940s from an African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks (whose story was recently documented by Rebecca Skloot in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). Since the establishment of HeLa, thousands of immortalized cell types have been developed, but HeLa cells remain the most commonly used one.

Image by Asae Igarashi, Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co. Ltd., Japan.


Cell Membranes Are Not Boring

by Michael Keller

To many of us, the image we have of our cells is that which we saw in our biology textbooks. Most are sort of roundish or ovular, though some, like the nerve cells that grow crazy axon tails and dendrite branches, have a more arresting shape.

The textbook and the microscope showed us that there are definitely lots of things going on inside, but the cell itself kind of just sits there and hangs out. The bag that holds all the goo in, the cellular membrane, looks sort of smooth and not really all that interesting.

Except that’s all wrong. Many cells have places to go along with things to do. That’s where structures called filopodia and lamella come in. These projections on the surface of the cell pull it along to where it needs to go, sense chemical signals in the environment and help the cell to interact with other cells.

The gifs above of filopodia waving and retracting on the surface of a cell were made from video created by Physicist Eric Betzig and his team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. See the video and read more below.

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anonymous asked:

There's at least one medical phenomenon I'd refrain from Heathenizing, however tempting the pun: Henrietta Lacks, of HeLa cell research fame, already had her tissue appropriated without her knowledge or consent. Lacks was Christian, and her family came to the conclusion that she returned as an angel in the form of her healing cells; it might therefore be appropriate to venerate her as an angel and/or ancestor (and donate to the foundation set up for her family.)

This sounds familiar but PSA in case any Heathens are actually doing this.

Nanomotors Operate Inside Living Cells 

For the first time, researchers from Penn State University have created “nanomotors” that can be controlled while inside a living cell. These microscopic synthetic motors can move inside a cell, spin around and bump against cell membranes.

According to the researchers, this breakthrough has the potential to improve cancer treatments and change the way medicine is administered, and could one day help treat diseases by mechanically manipulating cells.

Keep reading


New Microscope Offers Unprecedented View Of Life Inside A Cell

Anybody who was bitten by the biology bug in high school should find what these gifs show to be pretty amazing. These are a few of the stages that happen to our chromosomes during eukaryotic cellular division, a process vital to life when one parent cell splits to become two.

They were produced with a new microscopy technique developed in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute lab led by 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Eric Betzig. The method, called lattice light sheet microscopy, lets scientists take high-speed, high-resolution images of objects smaller than cells. It does this without bombarding the cells with lethal doses of electromagnetic radiation, so researchers can watch cellular processes as they unfold in real time and in three dimensions.

Scientists have started using the new microscope to watch molecules move in multicellular organisms, to track developmental changes at the cellular level and to see viruses as they invade a cell. Read more about how the microscope works here. Learn what’s happening in each gif and see the video below.

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When cells apoptose, they appear to collapse, forming small blebs and vesicles called apoptotic bodies. Here, an apoptotic HeLa cell (center) sits among its healthy and dividing counterparts, revealing a striking collection of blebs on its surface. Although HeLa cells are the workhorse of many in vitro cell biological experiments, they are far from normal. They are propagated from a cervical tumor and contain an aberrant genome with multiple copies of several human chromosomes, some of which also carry papilloma viral genes.

Here numerous HIV-1 particles leave a cultured HeLa cell. These viruses lack their vpu gene and thus can’t detach from the cell’s tethering factor, BST2. Each viron particle is ~120nm in diameter. The image was captured with a Zeiss Merlin ultra high-resolution scanning electron microscope. The cells were fixed, dehydrated, critical-point dried, and lightly sputter-coated with gold/palladium.

Watch on ucsdhealthsciences.tumblr.com

A Hela cancer cell undergoes division or mitosis.


Various stages of mitosis in HeLa Kyoto cell line

A HeLa cell is a cell type in an immortal cell line used in scientific research. It is the oldest and most commonly used human cell line. The line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken on February 8, 1951, from Henrietta Lacks, a patient who eventually died of her cancer on October 4, 1951. The cell line was found to be remarkably durable and prolific — which has led to its contamination of many other cell lines used in research.


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Cell Immortal

In early 1951, a 30-year-old black tobacco farmer and mother of five named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer by a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. A biopsy was conducted, the sample eventually passed along to the head of tissue culture research, Dr. George Gey, who had been attempting unsuccessfully for years to produce a line of immortal human cells – cells that could be grown in culture indefinitely, frozen without harm for years and easily divided into batches to be shared and studied by scientists everywhere.

Lacks’ malignant cells proved to be a godsend. With them, Gey created the first immortal cell line, dubbing them “HeLa cells” in recognition of their source. Henrietta Lacks never knew of the honor: The cells were harvested without her permission and she died just a few months after her cancer diagnosis.

Gey understood the significance of his achievement. He announced it on national television. More importantly, he freely donated both the cells and his techniques to interested scientists. As a result, HeLa cells have profoundly transformed medical research. They are the most commonly used cell line in the world. Uncountable trillions have been produced.  Jonas Salk used HeLa cells to develop the first polio vaccine. They have been employed for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxins, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and myriad other scientific endeavors. They went up on the first space missions to investigate what happens to cells in zero gravity. In her 2010 book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” author Rebecca Skloot estimates at least 60,000 scientific articles have been published about research done with HeLa cells. The work, like the cells themselves, goes on, unabated.

In this fluorescence light micrograph produced by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of California, San Diego, HeLa cells are colored to reveal specific structures: nuclei, which contain the cells’ genetic instructions, in dark blue; microtubules, essential to maintaining cell structure, in lighter blue and actin, an important protein, in red.


Once chromosomes are pulled to either side, the cell start reversing the steps of prophase and prometaphase: the nuclear envelop reforms around decompacting chromosomes. Near the end of telophase, a thin bridge between the daughter cells, called the midbody contains the remnants of the mitotic spindle. A ring of actin filaments (i.e., the cleavage furrow) pulls like ‘purse strings’ to pinch the cells into two.

Image: Two HeLa cervical cancer cells captured in telophase, as sister chromatids are separated into the two ends of the dumbbell-shaped cell. Green fluorescence is from Aurora B protein kinase fused to eGFP with white and red marking DNA and tubulin. The image was taken using a DeltaVision deconvolution/restoration microscope.

Wolverine can quickly heal from pretty much any wound, an ability he shares with Marvel Comics character/4chan personification Deadpool. In the comics, Deadpool undergoes an experimental procedure that “implants” him with Wolverine’s healing factor, which leaves Deadpool both ugly and insane … but hey, it works! There are some kinks to be ironed out, sure, but why isn’t this a bigger deal? At the very least, studying Wolverine’s cells could help cure diseases and advance medical science. We know this because there’s actually something like that in the real world: HeLa cells, named for Henrietta Lacks, the woman they were found in.

HeLa cells are “immortal,” in the sense that they don’t die after leaving the human body. Since they were discovered in the ‘50s, they’ve been used in developing vaccines, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and have even been shot into space, because sometimes even Science gets bored. Now imagine what we could do with cells that are actually immortal, not just technically. Annoyances like broken bones, the common cold, or even death would become a thing of the past. If Wolverine is committed to the greater good, he’ll stop using those hands to stab ninjas and start using them to jerk off into a cup.

5 Far Better Uses Of Superpowers Than Fighting Bad Guys