HeLa cells are a widely used and well-known immortal cell line in scientific research. They were derived from cervical cancer cells taken from an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks in 1951, without her knowledge or consent. The name “HeLa” comes from the first two letters of Henrietta’s first and last names.
HeLa cells are unique because they can divide indefinitely under proper laboratory conditions, making them an invaluable resource for a wide range of scientific studies. They have been used in many groundbreaking experiments, contributing to significant discoveries in the fields of cancer research, virology, immunology, and genetics, among others. Some notable examples include:
- Polio vaccine: HeLa cells played a critical role in the development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s. They provided a reliable platform for the cultivation of poliovirus, which allowed researchers to study the virus and develop an effective vaccine against it.
- Human genome research: HeLa cells have been extensively used in genetic research, including the Human Genome Project. In 2013, the complete genome of HeLa cells was sequenced, providing valuable insights into the genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.
- Cancer research: HeLa cells have been used to study various aspects of cancer biology, such as the role of specific genes, signaling pathways, and cellular processes in the development and progression of cancer.
- Drug testing: HeLa cells serve as a model system for testing the efficacy and safety of potential new drugs before they are tested in animals or humans.
The use of HeLa cells has sparked ethical debates regarding informed consent and the rights of research subjects, as Henrietta Lacks and her family were not aware that her cells were being used for research purposes. In recent years, efforts have been made to address these concerns, such as obtaining permission from the Lacks family for the publication of the HeLa cell genome and recognizing the contributions of Henrietta Lacks to scientific research.