HeLa cells have contributed to some of the biggest advances in modern science and it was all made possible by one woman. During this remarkable period of time, many scientists yearned to discover immortal cells, in hopes of finding a way to eliminate cancer and other infectious diseases. According to Skoot, for many years Dr. George Gey had been trying to grow human cells in test tubes. Dr. Gey strove to make the world cancer free and he was convinced that the key of doing so laid within the human cell. In his early stages of experimenting he encountered many setbacks, some in which resulted in the cells dying (Faudassiar). It was not much long until he made a breakthrough. In 1951, cancer patient Henrietta Lacks was taken to Baltimore’s main hospital where Dr. Gey examined a tissue sample from her tumor. Dr. Gey soon realized that his patients cells acted dissimilar than other cells in the lab. They were abnormally different from ordinary human cells (Faussadiar). These cells were exactly what Dr. Gey had been looking for, so he began to grow and test them in his laboratory. The patient’s cells were dividing every 20 hours and doubled in size (Butanis). For any cancer it was a record growth rate and they continued to grow in a very special way. Dr. Gey and other scientists believed that in her cells laid the secret on how to develop treatments for diseases. The cells were shipped throughout the world and were grown in many different laboratories conducting medical research (Butanis). In October 4, 1951, Henrietta Lacks died and never knew the impact she left on modern science. These cells were given the name HeLa, dedicated to Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta’s immortal cells were essential in transforming modern medicine, developing the polio vaccine, and helping scientists further understand cancer.
Due to HeLa cells having an insatiable appetite to grow and replicate, they are immortal (Flanick). This behavior or trait is a reflection of two hallmarks of cancer. One, is the uncontrolled proliferation which is driven by autonomous, or self- sustaining signal for the cells to keep growing with no end. The other aspect is the ability to evade cell death or apoptosis. HeLa cells multiply with no limits, making them in essence immortal (Butanis). The advances in research and medicine by HeLa cells are reflected by discovery of the poliovirus, as well as understanding the kind of intricacies of how cancer evolves.
The first major medical breakthrough achieved due to the discovery of HeLa cells was the polio vaccine. The poliomyelitis is an internal viral disease that first enters the body through the intestines and spreads causing nerve injury to the spinal cord. Polio killed and paralyzed many victims (especially children). The polio disease was at its peak in the early 1950’s, it was a very common case found within many different areas of the world (Flanick). Very little information was known about the deadly disease, much less a cure. It was not until 1953 that Jonas Salk invented the first successful polio vaccine with the help of HeLa cells. According to Chan, “the immortal cells were clearly infected by the viral disease, causing the infected cells to die” (Henrietta Lacks’ Cells Are Still Helping Protect Women From Cervical Cancer). The cells became the perfect hosts on which to grow and study the polio virus due to the endless supply. Because of HeLa cells, large samples of the polio vaccine could be tested. Salk’s vaccine cured the disease and resulted in saving many lives. A major medical hurdle was crossed by the discovery of Jonas Salk. Salk’s magnificent achievement could not have been accomplished without the help of HeLa cells.
HeLa cells aided in the creation of HPV vaccinations that have helped eliminate most cases of cervical cancer. According to Faussadiar, Henrietta’s immortal cells divide and grow in size, because they are cancer cells. HeLa cells have helped scientists uncover that cervical cancer is caused by a virus named Human Papillomavirus. A German virologist discovered that Henrietta Lacks’s cells consisted of HPV-18, one of the strains of HPV that causes cervical cancer (Chan). Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that opens into the birth canal. It is one of the most common types of cancer found amongst women worldwide, but also one of the most preventable, thanks to the HPV vaccine. Due the cells were cancerous nature , they had to have the secret on what cancer was and how it could be stopped. HPV is a group of over 200 related viruses. While most of them are not hurtful, there are about a dozen high-risk types of HPV which can cause cervical cancer (Faussadiar). According to Chan, “HPV vaccinations have prevented infections from two high-risk viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancers” (Henrietta Lacks’ Cells Are Still Helping Protect Women From Cervical Cancer). The HPV vaccine protects from the strains of HPV that do cause cancer. Although the dream of curing cancer has yet to become a reality, HeLa cells have helped develop a vaccine that has prevented cervical cancer.
The immortal cell line HeLa, named after cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, became the first successful human laboratory cells in vitrology. Her cells were abnormal, something scientist have never seen before. They had the ability to live and multiply without dying. After Dr.Gey realized that the cells he discovered could lead to many scientific advances, he sold them worldwide. This led to others creating vaccines to overcome diseases and treatments of cancer (Butanis). Without Henrietta Lacks’s cells, modern medicine would not be where it is today. Henrietta Lacks’s cells had the ability to survive in a petri dish. HeLa cells have been all over the world and used in almost every laboratory studying human biology (Skloot). Although there are other cell lines that have been discovered throughout the years, HeLa cells will live on forever. Henrietta Lacks has contributed to the world and she is now known as the mother of medicine.