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    February 6, 2009

    ‘Living Doll’ Made of Human Cancer Cells


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    Researchers have grown a “Living Doll” that looks like some strange mix between Gumbi and a gingerbread man but is actually made of living cancer cells (see above).  According to the New Scientist, the technique used to grow the Gumbi Gingerbread Man “could allow drugs to be tested on more complex tissue structures,” but they’re pretty vague on how it might do that.  It has to do with the fact that the Cultured Gumbi Gingerbread Man is actually a complex 3-D structure made of multiple cell types, which means it’s more similar to a human organ than individual cultured cells are (though it’s still seriously freakin different). 

    Unlike the amazing HeLa cells that I’m writing my book about, this poor doll’s cells weren’t immortal:  The Gumbi Gingerbread Man died the day after he was grown.  Here’s shot of the little guy at his actual size.  (Photo credit here).

    Update:  The cells used to create this doll were HepG2 cells (thanks, Abel!) — they were grown in the 70s using liver cancer cells from a 15 year old boy.  He had hepatitis B, which makes me think he (like Ted Slavin) was probably a hemophiliac who got hepatitis through a blood transfusion, which was common before it was possible (thanks in part to Slavin) to test the blood supply for the virus. Unlike the story of the HeLa cells, no one knows the identity of the boy these cells came from.  I’d bet anything he never knew his cells were grown and patented, let alone turned into a living doll.    

    8 Responses to “‘Living Doll’ Made of Human Cancer Cells”

    1. It’s a christmas tree…seek christmas tree

    2. Skloot says:

      Post updated … thanks Abel.

    3. Skloot says:

      Ooooh, Abel, thanks for pointing all of that out. I didn’t have time yesterday to look into what cell line was used for the doll but was planning to look into it today. I’d wondered if it was HepG2. Also, glad to know about imr90’s ‘nym! Hilarious.

    4. Nope, not as entrancing as the HeLa story but those are HepG2 cells, first isolated by Barbara Knowles and colleagues at Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute in 1975 from 15-year-old Argentinian boy with hepatocellular carcinoma. Why the cells in the story died after a day isn’t clear to me since HepG2 cells are nearly as aggressive and hearty as HeLa cells.
      btw, I love imr90’s ‘nym. IMR-90 are a normal human lung fibroblast line isolated from a female fetus as a substitute for WI-38 cells in vaccine production.

    5. Moopheus says:

      If it was a golem wouldn’t have emet marked on its forehead?
      It probably should be marked “do not eat”!

    6. Skloot says:

      Absolutely imr90 … any day now I expect to see headlines saying SCIENTISTS CLONE SMALL GREEN MAN WITH CANCER IN LABORATORY

    7. imr90 says:

      Don’t be surprised if you see this on the news as “Scientists create Frankenstein cancer monster!”

    8. Christophe Thill says:

      That’s not a Gumby. That’s a golem. Wait till it gets up and starts to walk around…

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