Cell research The handling of HeLa cells

Cell research The handling of HeLa cells / Health News

How cancer research is still benefiting from the cells of Henrietta Lacks, who died about 60 years ago


About 60 years ago the farm worker Henrietta Lacks died of cancer. At that time, the African American woman was taken from cells - the so-called HeLa cells. For a long time, however, the origin of the particularly long-lived cells was unknown. It was only known that they were cells of human origin. Thanks to HeLa cells, medicine has made great advances in cancer research but also in other areas. Thus, the cells were indispensable in the development of a vaccine against polio. Henrietta Lacks is therefore considered as „most valuable“ human individual. However, the wife's family did not suspect anything of this for a long time. After scientists succeeded in deciphering the genome of Henrietta Lacks in March, without obtaining the consent of the family, the post-litigation filed an appeal. On Wednesday, the family finally agreed with the American Institute of Health (NIH).

HeLa cells are an indispensable part of today's cell research
When Henrietta Lacks' husband David learned that the HeLa cells were the cells of his deceased wife, he was almost stunned. He has never been informed about the great service Henrietta is doing to date in medical research. Until his death in 2002, the man fought for the rights to the remains of his wife, who had died shortly after the cell death about 60 years ago.

The special feature of HeLa cells is that they can be reproduced well in large quantities, so that to this day several tons of epithelial cells have been bred and sold. In 1951, a young doctor of 31-year-old Henrietta took the cells in a biopsy from a cervical cancer (cervical cancer). The doctors married Margret and George Gey then managed to multiply the cells in nutrient solution - for the first time outside the human body. The cells grew and grew and appeared to be immortal. Today, HeLa cells are an integral part of cell research.

It is now known that the unusual longevity of the cells is due to the fact that the cancer-causing gene was further stimulated by a human papillomavirus to its degeneration.

Claims of the family of Henrietta Lacks were considered time-barred for a long time
It is estimated that 74,000 medical studies worldwide could benefit from HeLa cells. The cells of the poor-born mother of five children earned billions of dollars. Her relatives knew nothing of all this for a long time and did not have any say even after being known. They did not receive any compensation or similar. And worse, the high cost of Henrietta's treatment continued to impoverish the family. The claims of the family were allegedly barred.

This was no longer acceptable to Henrietta's grandson, David Lacks Jr., after scientists deciphered his grandmother's genome in March, without seeking the consent of the family. On Wednesday, the family finally agreed with the American Institute of Health (NIH).

„The main concern was the concern for privacy, "David Lacks Jr. said „USA Today“. „At the moment we are still in the early stages of genetic research and genetic medicine, but we do not know what will be possible in the future. "

Under the agreement, research will continue to use the cells of Henrietta Lacks in the future. However, the family of the farm worker was granted a say. This is especially true when research concerns the common genome. (Ag)

Image: Andreas Dengs, www.photofreaks.ws