Henrietta Lacks and the story of HELA Klay bonner 5th Period

Henrietta Lacks is a name known to those in the science community. We know her as HeLa. She was born August 1, 1920 and was raised on a tobacco farm in the 20's and 30's in a small town known as Clover, Virginia. She was diagnosed with Carcinoma of the Cervix and during a visit to the John Hopkins Hospital and a doctor known as Howard Jones, unbeknownst to Henrietta, took a sample of skin cells from her tumor and sent them to a cell biologist known as George Gey (see "What Doctors Did With Henrietta's Cells After Her Death" for information about what Gey did them). These cells became the basis for modern medicine today. Her cancer created tumors that ravaged her body due to it metastasizing. These tumors eventually led to kidney failure in Henrietta's body causing her to pass away due to Uremia. Henrietta Lacks passed away October 4, 1951.

Henrietta Lacks' Childhood Hometown of Clover, Virginia

What is a HeLa Cell And Why are They Important?

Before we go any further, here are some things to know about HeLa cells. HeLa cells are cervical cancer cells that were taken from Henrietta Lacks on February 8, 1951 without her consent. They are deemed "Immortal" due to their unlimited dividing ability. They are among the most commonly used cell lines in scientific research. HeLa cells have been a very important asset to science by aiding in the discovery of a Polio vaccine. Also, the cells have been used to test the effects of radiation and other toxic substances on the human body.

HeLa Cells

What Doctors Did with Henrietta's Cells After Her Death

When George Gey originally obtained HeLa cells, he set out to create the first "Immortal" cell line. Through a variety of tests and failures, he succeeded. As time passed, Gey had received requests from his fellow colleagues to send them some HeLa cells, to which obliged. With that, it allowed more experiments to be pursued which eventually led to the creation of the first Cell Production Factory for profit. This allowed doctors and other high-end facilities to acquire these cells and perform their own experiments as well. This helped to discover the before mentioned Polio vaccine and the cells have been used in many other experiments to help our society, some of which are still going on today. These include the testing of substances on the human skin, such as glue, tape, and cosmetics, and they are also being used to aid in Cancer and AIDS research.

George Gey

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"

(SS) = Scientifically Significant

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
  1. The Nuremberg code was a ten-point code of ethics that was established due to U.S. led war tribunal that had sentenced seven Nazi doctors to death. These doctors had performed experiments such as sewing siblings together to create Siamese twins and dissecting human subjects alive to study their organ functions. These were done without consent of the Jews, hence why the Nazi doctors are on trial. The Nuremberg Code's first line states ," The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential". Although this is a code, it wasn't a law. This leads into the next event.
  2. When Henrietta Lacks first went to the John Hopkins Hospital, she met with a gynecologist whose name was Howard Jones. He performed an exam and cut a small sample of the tumor's cells and sent them down to his pathology lab and they eventually fell into George Gey's hands. Jones took the sample without informing Henrietta and without her consent. This falls in line with the Nuremberg Code which stated that a scientist or doctor would need consent from the subject to proceed with an experiment. However, since the Nuremberg Code wasn't a law, doctors mainly saw it as a recommendation rather than a serious topic. Some would also argue that it only applied to Nazi's rather than doctors worldwide and others would complain that they never heard of the said Nuremberg Code.
  3. When George Gey received the cancer cells from Howard Jones, he started to perform experiments on them. His end goal was to create an immortal cell line. He created a culture medium for the cells and placed them in a machine that constantly kept the cells moving. The machine was known as the roller drum. He then started to notice that the amount of cells started to increase and he reached his end goal of creating an immortal cell line. (SS)
  4. In February of 1952, Jonas Salk stated that he wanted to find a Polio vaccine which would require culturing cells on an industrial cell. In just a few months, he built a factory at Tuskegee. The staff size grew along with the HeLa cells. They produced about 6 trillion cells every week! With that, his scientists were able to prove the effectiveness of Salk's vaccine. This helped to save the lives of millions of people, not only just Americans either, but people worldwide. (SS)
  5. In 1966, a man known as Stanley Gartler proposed that HeLa cells were contaminating numerous cell lines. This astonished the scientific community and also caused disrupt in it. One of the ideas he proposed was that the cells could attach to dust and fly through a room to another cell experiment, contaminating it, and invalidating it. This caused scientists and doctors to take further precautionary measures when it comes to contamination. Many established several decontamination products and stressed the contamination factor. (SS)
From L to R: Jonas Salk, Howard W. Jones, Stanley Gartler, and George Gey

Important Quote/Passage

“But Henrietta’s cells weren’t merely surviving, they were growing with mythological intensity … Soon, George told a few of his closest colleagues that he thought his lab might have grown the first immortal human cells. To which they replied, Can I have some? And George said yes” (p.40)

I chose this quote/passage because I feel it signifies the beginning of what HeLa cells have become and what they have done for us today. It touches on the beginning of a breakthrough and foreshadows the effect of the cells and the future possibilities of them as well. By showing that Gey is giving cells to his colleagues shows that they will use these to create something phenomenal just like Gey did. An example of this would be the Polio vaccine, which would not have been possible if Gey didn't share the cells like he did. Lastly, it explains the extent at the rate the cells were growing which some may not have been able to grasp. (117 words)

George Gey
HeLa Cells
Created By
Klay Bonner


Created with images by skeeze - "hela cells cultured electron microscope" • skeeze - "hela cells cultured electron microscope" • skeeze - "hela cells bacteria germs"

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