Cell research: dealing with HeLa cells

Cell research: dealing with HeLa cells

How cancer research still benefits from the cells of Henrietta Lacks, who died around 60 years ago

Farm worker Henrietta Lacks died of cancer about 60 years ago. At that time, cells - the so-called HeLa cells - were taken from the African American. However, the origin of the particularly long-lived cells was unknown for a long time. One only knew that they were cells of human origin. Thanks to the HeLa cells, medicine made great strides in cancer research but also in other areas. The cells were indispensable for the development of a polio vaccine. Henrietta Lacks is therefore considered the "most valuable" human individual. For a long time, however, the woman's family had no idea of ​​all of this. After scientists in March were able to decode Henrietta Lacks' genome without the family's consent, the post-procedure appealed. On Wednesday, the family finally agreed with the American Institute for Health (NIH).

HeLa cells have become an integral part of today's cell research. When Henrietta Lacks ’man David learned that the HeLa cells were cells of his late wife, he was almost stunned. He was never informed of the great service Henrietta has shown to medical research to this day. Until his death in 2002, the man fought for the rights to the remains of his wife, who died shortly after the cell was removed around 60 years ago.

The special thing about the HeLa cells is that they can be replicated in large quantities, so that to date several tons of the epithelial cells have been grown and sold. In 1951, a young resident of 31-year-old Henrietta removed the cells during a biopsy from a cervical carcinoma (cervical cancer). The physician couple Margret and George Gey then succeeded in multiplying the cells in nutrient solution - for the first time outside the human body. The cells grew and grew and seemed to be immortal. Today, HeLa cells are an integral part of cell research.

It is now known that the unusual longevity of the cells is due to the fact that the cancer-causing gene was additionally stimulated to degenerate by a human papillomavirus.

The claims of the von Henrietta Lacks family were long barred
It is estimated that 74,000 medical studies worldwide could have benefited from HeLa cells. The cells of the poor mother of five have earned billions of dollars. Her relatives knew nothing of all this for a long time and did not have a say even after becoming known. They also received no compensation or the like. And worse, the high cost of Henrietta's treatment made the family even poorer. The family claims were said to be time-barred.

Henrietta's grandson, David Lacks Jr., could no longer accept this after scientists deciphered his grandmother's genome in March without obtaining family approval. On Wednesday, the family finally agreed with the American Institute for Health (NIH).

"The main concern was privacy," David Lacks Jr. told USA Today. "We are still in the early stages of genetic research and genetic medicine, but we don't know what will be possible in the future . "

According to the agreement, research may continue to use Henrietta Lacks' cells in the future. However, the family of the farm worker was granted a say. This is especially true when research concerns the common genome. (ag)

Image: Andreas Dengs, /

Author and source information

Video: Real-time Monitoring of Phagocytosis Using the IncuCyte Instrument (September 2020).