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Henrietta Lacks, the Immortal Woman


Have you ever wondered how to do research? For example, if we want to know what happens in our cells when a virus infects it, when we don't have a certain gene, or when we come in contact with a certain medicine.

The first step is to have the cells to test, right? Well… what cells? That of our body or the body of some animal? Neither! At least not at the beginning of searches!

To safely test these types of interferents for normal cell life, we grow certain cell types in culture plates, which provide all the nutrients and environment needed for their growth.

However, there is a big problem in growing some cell types. For example, a normal skin cell has a short life span and does not multiply in vitro (name given to out-of-body testing in the laboratory). For this reason, the tests would have to give very fast results to be seen before the cell culture died.

This problem was solved from Henrietta Lacks story.

Henrietta Lacks born in 1920 and died of cervical cancer in 1951. Single, Henrietta Pleasant was the involuntary donor of a cancer cell culture, better known as HeLa, widely used in medical research.

HeLa cells were cultured when Mrs. Lacks received treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His cancer produced abnormally fast metastases (reproduced, mitosed), more than any other cancer known to doctors.

Following the death of Henriette Lacks, her cells continued to be cultivated to study their impressive longevity and were distributed to various laboratories around the world. Jonas Salk used them to make a polio vaccine.

They were sent to space for experiments under zero gravity. In the half century since his death, his cells have been continually used in experiments and research against cancer, AIDS, radiation effects, genetic mapping and more.

The number of cells in laboratories around the world is estimated to outnumber Mrs. Lacks' cells in life.

HeLa cells are called immortals because they divide an unlimited number of times, provided they are kept in optimal laboratory conditions. This is attributed to the fact that these cells have an active version of the enzyme Telomerase, implicated in the process of cell death and the number of times a cell can divide. Some strains may have been contaminated by other cells, but all come from Mrs. Lacks' tumor sample.

They are still grown today in laboratories around the world, in plastic bottles, in a medium containing bovine serum. Thousands of scientific work has been done with these cells.

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