Science & Tech

Everything You Need to Know About HeLa Cells

HeLa cells, an unusual line of human cells retrieved from a cancer patient, have aided in many areas of scientific discovery and medical improvement.

What are HeLa Cells?

  • Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951 and had a tissue biopsy at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
  • A subset of Lacks’ tumour cells, later dubbed HeLa cells, exhibited a unique characteristic – the ability to continually divide and replicate in laboratory circumstances.

HeLa Cells’ Distinctive Characteristics

  • Endless Proliferation: Unlike normal human cells, which have finite lifespans, HeLa cells showed continuous division, allowing them to develop indefinitely.
  • This characteristic revolutionised research by providing a consistent and versatile medium for studies.

Usefulness in Scientific Progress

  • Polio Vaccine: HeLa cells were critical in culturing the poliovirus, which aided in the development of the polio vaccine.
  • Cancer Research: HeLa cells aided in the testing of medicines and the study of disease causes.
  • Insights into Genetics: These cells were the first human cells to be cloned, expanding our understanding of genetics and cellular biology.
  • HeLa cells revolutionised drug testing, assisting in drug development and evaluating safety profiles.
  • Space Exploration: Their adventure took them to space, where they helped to comprehend cellular behaviour in microgravity.

Controversies and Ethical Dilemmas

  • Absence of Informed agreement: The use of HeLa cells without Henrietta Lacks’ agreement created ethical problems, particularly in the context of medical experiments on African American patients.
  • Patient Rights and Recognition: Discussions arose over patient rights, reasonable recompense, and the recognition of individuals whose contributions fuel scientific advancement.
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