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Monday, September 2, 2013

Backstory - Ms. Henretta Lacks - The HeLa Cells that Keep on Giving recent twist

  • September 2, 2013
    Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who was the unwitting source of cells which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create the first known human immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line. Wikipedia

    Back story - August 7, 2013
    Tom McCathy, the Guardian.com
    Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951 – her tumour cells have been an invaluable resource for researchers. Photo: Courtesy of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation
    For decades, scientists have used the cells of a woman who died young to conduct research that has prolonged innumerable lives. Now, for the first time, her contribution is to be formally recognised.
    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Wednesday that genetic research based on cells taken from Henrietta Lacks, known as HeLa cells, would include acknowledgement in published form of the woman and her life. The change in protocol, which strictly applies only to NIH grant recipients but which all researchers are encouraged to adopt, was welcomed by descendants of Lacks, who died in 1951. The move could also lead the way to better privacy measures for research participants and better data-sharing among scientists.

  • "We are happy, we are very happy, that from this point on, publications involving the HeLa genome will recognize Henrietta Lacks," granddaughter Jeri Lacks-Whye said, on a conference call arranged by the NIH to make the announcement. "For more than 60 years our family has been pulled into science without our consent … We are happy to be part of that conversation now, and we see this as an important step."
    Cancer cells taken from Lacks as part of a biopsy in February 1951 were the first human cells to be successfully cultivated in a laboratory. The cells were – and are – unusually resilient, for reasons scientists still don't fully understand. HeLa cells became instrumental to such medical breakthroughs as the development of a polio vaccine and figure in tens of thousands of scientific papers.
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