The Immortal HeLa Cell Line

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Popular Science is one of my favorite magazines and I never fail to learn something new in every issue that comes to my house. I learned that in 1952 a woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks contributed some cells taken during a cervical cancer biopsy. These cells reproduce infinitely in a lab and is the first immortal human cell line. The “HeLa” cells as they are called have been used so often that if you combined them they would weigh as much as 100 Empire State buildings and circle the equator three times.

HeLa cells were used to test countless vaccines including the Polio vaccine in 1952, also did you know that a scientist spilled a chemical on a HeLa cell in a lab completely by accident which caused the chromosomes to detangle and spread out. This later led to the discover that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes not forty eight which was first thought.

HeLa cells were cancerous were discovered to use an enzyme called telomerase which repairs their DNA allowing them and other cancer cells to function normally when other cells would have died. This also leads to immortal cell reproduction where the cells never know when to “cease” reproduction and therefore continue to replicate forever.

Just some science fact if you wanted to know about one of the most important human cell lines in science history.

-Justin Germino

Updated: February 7, 2010 — 2:25 pm