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HeLa is an immortalised cell line used in scientific research. It is the oldest human cell line and one of the most commonly used. HeLa cells are durable and prolific, allowing for extensive applications in scientific study.


On 4th October 1951, Lacks sadly died of cancer at the age of 31.


Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)

In February 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks, a 31 year old African American mother of five, was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital with symptoms of irregular vaginal bleeding. She was subsequently treated for cervical cancer. Her treatment was performed by Lawrence Wharton Jr., who at the time collected tissue samples from her cervix without her consent.

Her cervical biopsy supplied samples of tissue for clinical evaluation (He/La) and research by George Otto Gey, head of the Tissue Culture Laboratory. Gey's lab assistant, Mary Kubicek used the roller-tube technique to culture the cells.

It was observed that the cells grew robustly, doubling every 20-24 hours, unlike previous specimens which died out.

Once Gey realised the longevity and hardiness of these cells, he began sharing them with scientists all over the world; and the use of the HeLa cell line became widespread. The cells were used in the development of the polio vaccine, led to the first clone of a human cell, helped in the discovery of hamans having 46 chromosomes, and were used to develop vitro fertilisation. 

By the time Gey published a short abstract claiming some credit for the development of the line, the cells were already being used by scientists all over the world.

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