Advancements in Medical Research Due to Hela Cells

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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...
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