The Source of the Oldest and Most Commonly Used
Human Cell Line in Science
Henrietta Lacks (Aug. 1, 1920 – Oct. 4, 1951) was an African-American woman who was the unwitting source of cells (from her cancerous tumor) which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create the first known human immortal cell line for medical research known as the HeLa cell line.
As the first human cells grown in a lab that were “immortal” (they do not die after a few cell divisions), they could be used for conducting many experiments. This represented an enormous boon to medical and biological research.
By 1954, the HeLa strain of cells was being used by Jonas Salk to develop a vaccine for polio. In 1955 HeLa cells were the first human cells successfully cloned. Demand for the HeLa cells quickly grew. Since they were put into mass production, Henrietta’s cells have been mailed to scientists around the globe for “research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits”. HeLa cells have been used to test human sensitivity to tape, glue, cosmetics, and many other products. Scientists have grown some 20 tons of her cells, and there are almost 11,000 patents involving HeLa cells