All the HeLa cells used in biological research all over the world since the 50s stemmed from one sample of cells collected from one woman in 1951. That fact totally stumped me when I heard it a couple of months ago.
The book “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot is a fascinating and painful read. I had absolutely no idea that an African-American woman in her 30s from a very modest social background in Baltimore, dying of cervical cancer, was the source photoof the first human cell line. The name ‘HeLa’ stands for her name: Henrietta Laks, and the cell line has led to countless biomedical advances.
Nor did I know that cells could be ‘immortal’….
The story of the HeLa cells leaves you questioning the emergence of scientific ‘facts’ like that of an immortal cell line. What are the consequences of using tissue collected from one person as the basis for an overarching scientific model? Can these issues be hashed-out by using concepts from lifecourse epidemiology?