Hela cell is an immortal cell line used in medical research. The cell line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks, who died from her cancer in 1951. The cells were propagated by George Otto Gey without Lacks' knowledge or permission and later commercialized, although never patented in their original form. There was then, as now, no requirement to inform a patient, or their relatives, about such matters because discarded material, or material obtained during surgery, diagnosis or therapy was the property of the physician and/or medical institution. This issue and Ms. Lacks' situation was brought up in the Supreme Court of California case of John Moore v. the Regents of the University of California. The court ruled that a person's discarded tissue and cells are not their property and can be commercialized.
Initially, the cell line was said to be named after a "Helen Lane" or "Helen Larson", in order to preserve Lacks's anonymity. Despite this attempt, her real name was used by the press within a few years of her death. These cells are treated as cancer cells, as they are descended from a biopsy taken from a visible lesion on the cervix as part of Ms. Lacks's diagnosis of cancer, but a debate still continues on the classification of the cells.
HeLa are termed "immortal" in that they can divide an unlimited number of times as long as basic cell survival conditions are met (i.e. being maintained and sustained in a suitable environment). There are many strains of HeLa cells as they continue to evolve by being grown in cell cultures, but all HeLa cells are descended from the same tumour cells removed from Lacks. It has been estimated that the total mass of HeLa cells today far exceeds that of the rest of Henrietta Lacks's body.[