Monday, February 15, 2010

A Fact for your Pocket

So to digress from the earlier dredge of stupidity, I'm going to throw out a fact I learned from an unexpected source today. Have you ever heard of the name Henrietta Lacks? How about the HeLa strain? Still no? Well I found out today via this guy, and you should check out his dapper new site.
Keith Knight was formerly a cartoonist for, but more importantly, let's learn about the significance of Ms. Lack shall we?

From teh wikipedia:
Henrietta Lacks (August 18 (?), 1920 – October 4, 1951) was the unwitting donor of cells from her cancerous tumor, which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create animmortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line
The cells were propagated by George Otto Gey without Lacks' knowledge or permission (neither she nor her family gave permission)when she died in 1951. and later commercialized, although never patented in their original form. Then, as now, there was no requirement to inform a patient, or their relatives, about such matters because discarded material, or material obtained during surgery, diagnosis or therapy, was the property of the physician and/or medical institution. This issue and Mrs. Lacks' situation was brought up in the Supreme Court of California case of Moore v. Regents of the University of California. The court ruled that a person's discarded tissue and cells are not their property and can be commercialized.[citation needed]

Although recently in Texas there was a court case won by the Texas Civil Rights Project and several plaintiffs against the state for storing baby blood samples without consent, which resulted in millions of samples being destroyed by court order.

Initially, the cell line was said to be named after a "Helen Lane" or "Helen Larson", in order to preserve Lacks's anonymity. Despite this attempt, her real name was used by the press within a few years of her death. These cells are treated as cancer cells, as they are descended from a biopsy taken from a visible lesion on the cervix as part of Mrs. Lacks' diagnosis of cancer. A debate still continues on the classification of the cells.[citation needed]

HeLa cells are termed "immortal" in that they can divide an unlimited number of times in a laboratory cell culture plate as long as fundamental cell survival conditions are met (i.e. being maintained and sustained in a suitable environment). There are many strains of HeLa cells as they continue to evolve by being grown in cell cultures, but all HeLa cells are descended from the same tumor cells removed from Mrs. Lacks. It has been estimated that the total number of HeLa cells that have been propagated in cell culture far exceeds the total number of cells that were in Henrietta Lacks' body.[3]

This cell line is responsible for the advancement of many scientific research projects. It's uniqueness has made it so useful that it's still used to this day in cancer research and various other experiments where consistent cell growth is required. We have this woman to thank although history has seen fit to ensure she and her family are never compensated for this donation to science.

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