Katrina Samborski Honors English 1100 Dr. Nicole Caswell November 10, 2012 Advancement of Medical Research from HeLa Cells HeLa simply stands for Henrietta Lacks, a young mother in the 1951 who went to the doctor complaining of vaginal bleeding and discovered she had cervical cancer. Henrietta’s cells were taken for a biopsy and were found to be like nothing ever seen before; her cells were immortal. Her cancer cells double every 20 to 24 hours and have lived on for the past 60 years. Since HeLa cells were created, our world of modern medicine has been completely changed.
We now vaccines for once incurable diseases and have used the cells for cloning and other biomedical research. Although the cells have done a great deal of good, they have also caused substantial harm to Henrietta Lacks, her family, and potential trial research participants. Therefore, though some may think it was ethically wrong of Henrietta Lacks’ doctors to not inform her that they were using her cells, she is the reason we have been able to save thousands of lives. It was at Johns Hopkins Hospital when Dr.
Gey, a prominent cancer and virus researcher, discovered Henrietta’s cells were immortal. Since cancer cells will die outside the body without the right mix of chemicals, Dr. Gey created the roller tube. This contraption held glass tubes containing samples in nutrient-rich fluids, turned slowly – sometimes just two revolutions an hour, exposing the cells to just the right mix of air and nutrients. When Henrietta’s cells were placed in this device, they never stopped dividing. While their research value is unquestioned, the tumor cells had created havoc in Henrietta Lacks’ body.
Skloot recounts the lab technician Mary Kubicek who was present at the autopsy. “The tumors had completely blocked her urethra, leaving doctors unable to pass a catheter into her bladder to empty it. Tumors the size of baseballs had nearly replaced her kidneys, bladder, ovaries and uterus. And her other organs were so covered in small white tumors it looked as if someone had filled her with pearls” (Williams). Although her cells are cancerous, HeLa cells share many traits with normal cells, making them useful in studying protein synthesis, the human genome and how viruses work. Dr.
Gey sold the cells to researchers around the world, who used them to develop a variety of medicines. HeLa cells were the first to travel into space in an unmanned satellite to see if humans could survive zero gravity. “This cell line is used all around the world and revolutionized cell biology because they grew so well in culture, said William Earnshaw, principal research fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cell Biology. “They yielded a huge amount of information,” Earnshaw said (Sharp). In the early 1950s, the world experienced the biggest polio pandemic in history.
Jonas Salk devised the world’s first polio vaccine, but testing it would require huge supplies of live cells that, at the time, would have involved the sacrifice of thousands of monkeys. HeLa cells proved to be technically more suitable for testing, and much less expensive and messy, than using monkeys. Moreover, HeLa cells grew virtually anywhere and on any surface, including while floating on liquid. A HeLa mass production and distribution center was therefore established at the Tuskegee Institute, ironically at exactly the same time that the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study on black subjects was being carried out.
Soon HeLa cells were to enable the first disaggregation of chromosomes, numerous discoveries from genetic and viral studies, and the first-ever cloning of a cell, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization and much, much more. (Ncayiyana) HeLa cells have had a positive influence on medicine in many ways including with giving us knowledge about the human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA and HPV18-positive. HeLa cells have been linked to changes in microRNA expression. Since HPV18 has been associated with very aggressive adenocarcinomas, this finding may explain why Dr.
Gey was surprised by the prolific growth of HeLa cells in culture. Routine Papanicolaou smear screening may not detect rapidly progressive cervical carcinomas; the new HPV vaccine holds the promise of preventing these tumors. (Hutchins). The problem of possible contamination of other long-term cultured tumor cell lines with HeLa cells not only caused an international embarrassment, but also raised the concern of misattributing a specific property so another cell line, for example, a virus or a tumor-specific marker, which actually belongs to HeLa.
With the continued and growing use of tissue culture in biochemist research, intra- and interspecific contamination becomes a significant risk. The determination of stable genetic markers on cultured cells is a powerful tool for monitoring such contamination. Recent experiments in which cultured cells and innumerable clones of somatic cell hybrids have been used for genetic analysis have shown that, with the proper use of polymorphic markers to characterize the cells, the possibility of undetected cross contamination of cultures is no longer the problem it once may have been.
Therefore, in an effort to clarify the characteristics of the HeLa cell and establish its probable genotype for better-known polymorphisms, we studied HLA and other markers, in the surviving husband and children of Henrietta Lacks. (Hsu) Not only were there several negative effects for Henrietta Lacks, but the general public has found flaws with HeLa cells as well. The Drug Information Association sponsored a workshop that brought together people who deal with facilitating or regulating the collection of clinical specimens for genetic analyses to complement drug trials.
Genetic studies of clinical samples have for years had to negotiate a tricky path through informed consent, confidentiality, and regulatory-oversight, but according to a couple of speakers who noted the Henrietta Lacks story, the 19 months since the book’s publication have made some people even more wary of this research. “I think it was disconcerting to people who are not used to thinking about how specimens are handled, that their specimens could outlive them,” said the meeting’s main organizer and chair, Amelia Wall Warner, Ph. D. who heads clinical pharmacogenomics and clinical specimen management for the drug company Merck. The Skloot book seems to be creating a lot of conversation, with patients often asking for a menu of consent that large-scale trials with many thousands of patients can’t accommodate, she noted. (Zoler) Although there are accusations against doctors and corporations that bought these cells stating they did so without Henrietta Lacks’ consent, we owe our world of modern medicine to her. Her cells allowed us to research and experiment countless diseases and opened the door to learn about the human enome and cancer cells. Dr. Gey said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. ” It was the best of times for science in that this very peculiar tumor gave rise to the HeLa cell line, which has been available for the various studies referred to by others. For Mrs. Lacks and the family she left behind, it was the worst of times. Scientific progress and indeed progress of all kinds is often made at great cost, such as the sacrifice made by Henrietta Lacks” (Jones). While her family has yet to be compensated, HeLa cells continue to be used everyday in the medical field.
Works Cited: Ncayiyana, Daniel J. “The extraordinary story of the life after death of Henrietta Lacks. ” South African Medical Journal 101. 3 (2011): 141. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. Grover M. Hutchins, Brendan P. Lucey, and Walter A. Nelson-Rees. Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine. 133. 9 (Sept. 2009) p1463. Word Count: 4083. Jones HW Jr – Am J Obstet Gynecol – 01-JUN-1997; 176(6): S227-8 MEDLINE® is the source for the citation and abstract of this record Susan H.
Hsu, Bernice Z. Schacter, Nancy L. Delaney, Thomas B. Miller, Victor A. McKusick, R. H. Kennett, J. G. Bodmer, D. Young and W. F. Bodmer Science , New Series, Vol. 191, No. 4225 (Jan. 30, 1976), pp. 392-394 Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science Article Stable URL: http://www. jstor. org/stable/1741942 Mitchel Zoler. Internal Medicine News. 44. 17 (Oct. 15, 2011) p63. Word Count: 433. Williams, Nigel. “Prize For the HeLa Cell Story. ” Current Biology 20. 23 (2010): n. ag. Sciverse. com. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. Manfuso, Jamie, and Stephanie Desmon. “Honoring the Henrietta Lacks Legacy at Hopkins. ” Hopkins Medicine Magazine. Johns Hopkins, 20 May 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. Hepworth, Jeri, PhD. “Advocacy for Henrietta Lacks and Family Medicine. ” Editorial. Family Medicine Sept. 2011: 595-96. Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. Sharp, Rob. Life and afterlife of a women who will live for ever. The Independent. November 10 2010. Web. Nov 12 2012.