The Incredible HeLa Cells
Information and Theories 3/6/10
By: Chris Capps
There is a type of cell used in research of human origin that proliferates, thrives in pitri dishes by itself, escapes notoriously, and infects other cells without distinction. These cells are commonly used in conjunction with much research due to their resilient nature, and the fact that they do not require a human body, but are indeed independently human flesh. They span the globe and have been mass produced since their discovery in 1954 in "cell factories." And the most incredible part? They all come from one woman who died shortly after they were taken from her.
Though the cells have been classified as "non human" and given their own species name, the original cell from which they came was actually an American born woman who lived a relatively normal life until cervical cancer developed within her body. When cells were taken for one of the tests, they were moved to a lab to be used in research without her knowledge, and a new species was born. The cells didn't die as normal ones do when separated from the body. Instead, they thrived and even multiplied, drawing nutrition from external sources. The cells multiply and eventually overtake other cells, contaminating other samples in experiments. The versatile cells have been notoriously blamed for hundreds of contaminated and compromised experiments.
The cells are currently one of the most widely used research samples in the world. It is currently estimated that if all of the cells were put into one location it would weigh over fifty million metric tons. And they were all derived from a tiny sample no larger than a pinhead. They have played an active role in the discovery of vaccines, treatments, cures, AIDs research, Cancer research, bio-warfare development, and a number of other applications.
HeLa cells divide at an incredible rate, even when compared to other cancerous cells. Its active tolemerase keeps it from shortening its life span each time it divides, meaning it doesn't eventually die, but could go on living indefinitely. This shortened life span means the cells can divide like an organism and even thrive in certain conditions, particularly if they're tended to. The Hayflick Limit is the number of cells a single cell can produce after it's separated from living tissue. This limit is the reason normal cells die off and no longer exist outside of the body. Essentially, these cells are that of a younger woman despite the fact that they've been around for over 60 years.
The most disturbing aspect of these cells is quite possibly that they are indeed cancer cells, yet can exist outside of a host body. It has been speculated that they could be dangerous if a strain went rogue and found its way into the general populace. Could these ageless cells one day reveal the secrets to longer life and eventually immortality? Or could a strain of them one day possibly go rogue and turn into a contagious form of cancer? Either way, the incredible new species born from a single person has been invaluable to the scientific community.