In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, 31, came to the hospital with a lump in her abdomen. A gynaecologist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital was examined and diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is highly malignant. Eight months later, as cancer cells shrode through the body, the young Heriot’s died.
She did not know that not only did her cells die, but they would also be immortalized, leaving far-reaching influence seischency in the history of biomedical research.
Henrietta Lacks, 1921 – 1951.
Surgeons sent a biopsy sample taken by Herrietta during the operation to Dr. George Gey’s lab. For years, Dr. Gay and his wife Margaret have been collecting tissue samples from cancer patients and trying to grow cells in test tubes and petri dishes in search of the causes and treatments of cancer. But such attempts always fail, and leaving the cells of human tissue simply dying.
The Gays soon discovered that Herita’s cells were different from any cell they had ever seen: not only did they survive, but they were growing at an alarming rate, doubling in number every 20 to 24 hours, from hundreds to millions in a few days! In the usual way, the scientists named the cells the first two letters of Herita Lax’s name: HeLa.
Hella cells can “grow endlessly” in the researchers’ homemade nutrient solution. This characteristic makes them ideal subjects, allowing scientists to perform repeatable experiments on human cells, especially those that cannot be performed on living humans. Soon after, Dr. Gay placed helley cells in small tubes and mailed them free to researchers around the world who study cancer and other biomedical problems.
HeLa cells cultured and dyed under laboratory conditions, blue with the nucleus (Photo: Pixabay)
Not only was hella cells the first human cell line to achieve eternal life in vitro, but for the next nearly 70 years they became one of the most widely used human cell lines in scientific research, meeting the great demand for biomedical research. According to estimates by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 110,000 research papers were used in Hella cells between 1953 and 2019.
Because these human cells can be cultured on a large scale, scientists who were struggling to fight polio at the time quickly used them to develop an effective vaccine. In addition, in the study of AIDS, herpes, measles, mumps, horse encephalitis and other disease-causing viruses, Hella cells are also “close contact” with the virus. By 2020, the cells will become an important research tool in the search for a new crown vaccine around the world.
In addition to promoting virological research, researchers used hella cells to explore cell growth, differentiation and death, and to study the role of drugs, hormones, and bacteria in cells to provide insight into diseases such as cancer. Based on Hella cells, scientists have also pioneered new medical techniques, such as in vitro fertilization. The first humans to go into space also brought Herita Lax’s cells into space to see how the weightless cells would react: the hellacells grew stronger into space than normal cells.
Three-dimensional images of HeLa cells (Photo: Pixabay)
When Herita Lax died, no one knew how her cancer had happened or why her cells would not die. It wasn’t until more than 30 years later that The human papillomavirus (HPV) was discovered by Harald zur Hausen, a German virologist. In Hella’s cells, Professor Howson found a strain of the HPV virus and found that the virus inserted its DNA into human DNA. In Hella cells, the insertion of viral DNA just doesn’t work, so cancer cells grow wild in Herita’s body. These findings led to the development of the HPV vaccine, which led to Professor Howson winning the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Monument to Herita Lax.
The cells left behind by Herita Lax have led to scientific breakthroughs that have saved countless lives. However, she had no knowledge of these contributions, and her daughter did not learn that part of her mother was still alive until more than two decades after her death. In the 1950s, when Heriot’s underwent surgery at the hospital, there was no regulation for doctors to obtain tissue samples for research purposes. In the past few decades, the development of scientific research has been accompanied by the development of concepts and laws regarding informed consent and patient privacy.
Herita Lax was born in 1920, and August 1 this year is the 100th anniversary of her birth. Today, Hella cells are spread all over the world, and the total weight of the cells that have been bred is estimated to be equivalent to 100 Empire Towers. Her legacy has made a tremendous contribution to scientific progress and the improvement of human health, and we all deserve to be grateful to all of us.