How do HeLa cells work?

Well I just read this book called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

Though there were some questions I was still wondering about.

Was Henrietta Lacks dying because she had her cells taken? (And I know she was not being treated well enough by doctors as well, but if her cells were still in her body, then would it have prevented her from going under serious pain?)

And my main understanding of HeLa cells so far is that they're just human cells that could keep growing. Which means that they can keep being tested on for studying. Is that they're true purpose and function?

Let me know. Thank you.

3 Answers

  • 7 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    I too read the book. She had cervical cancer which she died from. But before she died the doctors at Hopkins took a culture. Later they found that those cells never died, but continued to grow. That is there main purpose in research because they are an immortal strain. They became a very powerful tool in cancer research. They are also significant t because they were taken from her without her knowledge and consent, something that can't be done today. The book raises a lot of ethical questions in science.

  • Bob B
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    Henrietta Lacks died from cervical cancer. The HeLa cells were originally cancer cells that were sampled when doctors tried to treat the cancer (I don't know enough about the case to know how good a job they did, but having the cells there would not have helped her in the slightest).

    Now, most human cells will die after a generation or two in culture. The HeLa cells, though, will just keep on growing and dividing indefinitely no matter how many generations you put them through (like most cancers, they have lost some of the regulation systems ordinary cells have). This makes them useful for a lot of biomedical research purposes, as you can just keep growing them.

    So to summarise- removing the cells probably made no difference at all to Henrietta Lacks' fate. However, what was done to her was still highly unethical and would get anyone who did it today into a lot of trouble. To donate cells, you need to consent first and sign a legal agreement.

  • 7 years ago

    what's a HeLa cell? It's a line, or population, of cells, taken from a person and used in scientific research. Cell lines are often named after the people from whom they were originally derived, and HeLa comes from the first two letters in the name Henrietta Lacks. Cell lines are used in all kinds of ways, such as studying the effects of diseases or developing medications and vaccines, and play an invaluable role in medicine today.

    But HeLa cells were the first -- the first line of human cells to survive in vitro (in a test tube). Named after a cancer patient, the cells were taken from Lacks' tissue samples and grown by a researcher named Dr. George Gey in 1951. Dr. Gey quickly realized that some of Lacks' cells were different from normal cells. While those died, they just kept on growing. After more than 50 years, there are now billions and billions of HeLa cells in laboratories all over the world. It's the most commonly used cell line, and it's known to be extremely resilient.

    The fact that HeLa cells have been used in some very important, groundbreaking medical research is interesting enough, but there's another part of the story -- and that part is why Oprah might be making a movie about HeLa. Henrietta Lacks had no idea that her cells were taken and used in this way, and neither did her family. And while the cells became Bovine Cortisol ELISA Kit ( ) Lacks' family has lived without healthcare and in poverty. Henrietta Lacks' story isn't just about her contribution to medical research; it's about the ethics of biomedical research and the practice of informed consent. But let's start at the beginning, with Henrietta herself.

    For a long time, researchers who were curious enough to ask were told that HeLa cells were named after "Helen Lane" or "Helen Larson." Medical journals wrote about the line and a few did mention Henrietta's real name, but few people paid attention. That part just wasn't considered important.

    The real Henrietta Lacks was a young African-American mother living outside of Baltimore, Maryland. While pregnant with her fifth child, she felt what she described to cousins as a "knot." After childbirth, Lacks experienced abnormal bleeding. Her doctor discovered a lump on her cervix and sent a sample of it to a lab. The result was a diagnosis of cervical cancer. The only hospital in the area at the time that would treat African-American patients was Johns Hopkins, so that's where Lacks went for treatment.

    While her husband and children often waited in the car outside, she endured radiation treatments (which were done at the time by inserting tubes of radium around her cervix and sewing them into place) as well as X-ray treatments. The cancer spread despite these and other treatments, however, and caused Lacks horrible pain. She died in the hospital at the age of 31 on October 4, 1951. She had been diagnosed just nine months earlier.

    During her radiation treatments, a doctor removed some tissue samples from Lacks' cervical tumor. She had signed the usual forms consenting to treatment for her cancer, but was not asked for her permission to remove the tissue samples, nor was she informed that it had been done, but this wasn't unusual. The tissue was sent to Dr. Gey in the Tissue Culture Laboratory at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Gey had been trying to grow human cells in the lab for decades, but they always died within a few days. Lacks' cells were unique. He isolated one of them and got it to divide -- and it just kept going. He named the line HeLa.

    Henrietta Lacks has finally gotten some recognition. Her contributions have been commemorated by organizations like the Morehouse College of Medicine and the Smithsonian. ig4v1e4 There's Skloot's book, which HBO has optioned for a movie. And after 60 years, a headstone was finally placed at her grave. Skloot has also created the Henrietta Lacks Foundation to educate people about Lacks and to help her family and others.

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