Henrietta's cells were, and still are, some of the strongest cells known to science--they reproduce an entire generation every 24 hours. "If allowed to grow uninhibited," Howard Jones and his Hopkins colleagues said in 1971, "[HeLa cells] would have taken over the world by this time." This strength provided a research workhorse to irradiate, poison, and manipulate without inflicting harm; but it also meant research labs were only big enough for one culture: HeLa.We have Henrietta Lacks to thank for any number of treatments, including the polio vaccine. Her cancer became our cures.
Though it took three decades for the Geys to succeed with their efforts to create a human cell line, after their success with HeLa, culturing cells became suspiciously easy. Researchers cultivated tissue samples from their own bodies and the bodies of their families and patients. Most grew successfully. Sure, the samples struggled during the first few weeks, or even months, in culture, but then, suddenly, they flourished. Samples blossomed into full-blown healthy cell lines with the strength of, well, the HeLa cell.
In 1974, a researcher by the name of Walter Nelson-Rees started what everyone called a nasty rumor: HeLa cells, he claimed, had infiltrated the world's stock of cell cultures. No one wanted to believe him. For almost three decades researchers had done complex experiments on what they thought were breast cells, prostate cells, or placental cells, and suddenly, rumor had it they'd been working with HeLa cells all along. To believe this would be to believe that years of work and millions of dollars had, in essence, been wasted.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Posted by Odious at 9:37 PM