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HeLa Cells: The Hidden Heroes of Research

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HeLa cells are an underappreciated part of research. Even with billions being used every day in millions of labs around the world, many do not know the origins or the usefulness of HeLa Cells. But what are HeLa cells, and what make them so crucial for researchers?

What are HeLa cells?

HeLa cells are cancer cell lines, which are populations of cells taken from humans and grown outside the body, or in vitro. These cell lines can be then used for researching how cells grow and develop, creating new treatments, helping patients heal faster, etc.

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Where do HeLa Cells come from?

The name HeLa comes from Henrietta Lacks, a 1951 cervix cancer patient being treated for her disase by Dr. George Gey. When Dr. Gey swabbed a sample of her cancer cells to test in a test tube, he realized that they were growing, and it was outside her body. He realized that this invention could help further research all over the globe, giving people the ability to test cells without needing a live patient. He named this cell line HeLa after Lacks' name.

How do HeLa cells work? Cancer cells grow exponentially without regulation. This is, in our bodies, how tumors form in the first place; when the process of programmed cell death is ignored by cells through defects, the cells continue to grow and become cancer cells. For this reason, in research, HeLa cells are considered dangerous and can easily contaminate experiments due to their invasive nature.

Benefits of HeLa cells

HeLa cells have been used to test new treatments for Parkinsons, Tuberculosis, and many other deadly diseases without risk to any patients. They can be used to test cosmetics, to study cell growth, or primarily to study cancer treatment. The field of virology heavily depends on HeLa cell lines, as researchers contaminate cells with disease intentionally to see what kinds of treatments they can try on them.

HeLa cells are in use around the world, with virologists and epidemiologists to even regular biologists using them every day to try and further push medical boundaries in their fields. Henrietta Lacks and her revolutionary cell lines are a critical part of research and deserve to be acknowledged more for their uses.


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