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  • Writer's pictureSidhh Valia

The Immortal Cell Line

There are lots of unsung heroes for us. Sometimes people get lost in the shuffle. They earned it and there was nothing given to them. One such unsung hero was Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the Hela cell line, the first immortalized human cell line. It is one of the most important cell lines in medical research and continues to be a source of invaluable medical data till the present day.

After having a childhood full of struggles, at the age of 31, Lacks was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins hospital at Maryland. During her treatment, two samples were taken from Lacks’ cervix without her permission or knowledge out of which one was a healthy tissue and the other one was cancerous. The cells from the cancerous sample eventually became known as the Hela immortal cell line, a commonly used cell line in contemporary biomedical research.

In the laboratory, her cells turned out to have an extraordinary capability to survive and reproduce, they were, in essence, immortal! The researcher shared them widely with other scientists and they became a workhouse of biological research.

I was wondering, how are the Hela cells immortal?

These cells multiply abnormally rapidly, even compared to other cancer cells. They have an active version of telomerase during cell division, which copies telomeres over and over again. The result is unlimited cell division and immortality.

The Hela cell line still lives today and is serving as a tool to uncover crucial information about the novel coronavirus. Hela cells were the 1st human cells to survive and thrive outside the body in a test tube.

Hela cells revolutionised biomedical research.

Such was the glory of Lacks. Unfortunately she did not get the right recognition. I feel the real heroes are not necessarily the ones in the magazines. My message to everyone is don’t be concerned about fame, be concerned about being the best you can be. Because it's better to be an unsung hero than a sung unhero!

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