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    April 6, 2011

    If you have used HeLa cells in the course of your professional or academic career, tell us about the research you’ve done using HeLa cells – how has HeLa contributed to your science? What have you learned from them?

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    5 Responses to “If you have used HeLa cells in the course of your professional or academic career, tell us about the research you’ve done using HeLa cells – how has HeLa contributed to your science? What have you learned from them?”

    1. Anonymous says:

      wow so interesting!

    2. Miranda says:

      Excellent, excellent job with The Immortal Life, Rebecca! I read it a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t put it down!

      The first time I’d heard the name “Henrietta Lacks” was in a virology course in graduate school (BS and MS in biology). My professor mentioned that her cells had been taken without her permission, but that was all he’d said about her. Her name had stuck with me since then and when I learned that there was a book published about not only the HeLa cells but also the life of the woman the cells were taken from, I knew I had to read it and I’m so glad I did.

      I work for a contract manufacturing organization that manufactures viral-based products such as vaccines and gene therapy products for other companies, and our business is heavily dependent on cell culture; one of the most commonly used cell lines for this type of work is HeLa. Now that I know some of Henrietta’s personal history and that of her family, as well as how the use of her cells without her knowledge or permission affected her family, I will never view HeLa cells the same way again.

      To the Lacks family: I believe that the publication of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” will continue to open people’s eyes to the significant contributions that Mrs. Lacks has made to the scientific and medical fields. Those of us in the scientific community too often take for granted the fact that the tissue samples, cells, etc., that we routinely use actually came from real people with names, families, histories, and feelings. I, for one, will be eternally grateful to Mrs. Lacks, as she made the ultimate sacrifice to save countless other lives, though she didn’t know it at the time. I’ll bet that she knows it now, and is incredibly glad that she was able to help the world in such a significant way. Thank you all, and thank you, Rebecca, for telling her story.

    3. Michael Jirka, BSMT(ASCP) says:

      I have spent 40 years in Clinical Lab Science. I have always known the tremendous contributions HE LA cells have made. Monoclonal antibodies developed from HE LA cells transformed medical lab science. Tests that might have taken a ½ day to perform were now available as “eyedropper” tests. Whole new fields in genomics and the antibody attached dyes that made her cells so “pretty” were the outcome of monoclonal research. The whole field of Hematology has been turned “Topsy Turvy” in the diagnosis of Leukemia. While the pathologist still has microscopic input to the classification, the genetic markers found with monoclonal antibodies and the dyes to make them “pretty” have equal weight in the classification of leukemia and lymphomas.

      I retired a year early at 64 to write a book on Henrieta Lacks but I could never have done it as well. I have thought of her often in my 40 years of medical technology and found that I owe her my life after reading your book. Her cells provided the growth medium for the Polio Virus to grow on which allowed for Jonas Salk’s vaccine. I was vaccinated in the fourth grade much to the relief of my mother. I also learned that the “MO” cell line was responsible for protecting me from Hepatitis B. In 1971, I was one of the “beta” testers of the vaccine. That was the biggest danger working in clinical labs at the time. Two of my co-workers died from hepatitus.

      HELA cells also raised forensic science to a new level and as a consequence, raised the field of medical technology to heightened awareness with all the “CSI” shows on TV. People still don’t know what we do but they know CSI people work in a lab with neat machines that can spit out answers in the short time span of a commercial. We also provide extended tests for the coroner so we are the Cinderella’s doing much of the work in the background that CSI gets the credit for.

    4. Erin says:

      I just finished reading The Immortal Life and really loved the story. I knew when I began my undergraduate research in 2007 that the cell line I was using came from Henrietta, but the Wikipedia entry on it didn’t provide me with much information at that time. I was very excited to read The Immortal Life and finally learn the story of the cells.

      I was disheartened to learn how the family was treated and how little information (and, indeed, monetary compensation) was provided to them despite the contribution made by Henrietta to science. As a child of the late 80’s, and a researcher of the late 2000’s, I can barely picture a scientific world like the one in the 50’s and 60’s. The deeds committed by researchers back then makes me ashamed of my field.

      But, as a small consolation, I wanted to share how HeLa cells are helping the animal agriculture industry (perhaps something the Lacks family can relate to, as farmers themselves). The problem is this: cows that get pregnant in a commercial dairy setting often lose the pregnancy very early in gestation. This is detrimental because no baby cows = no milk! And no money for farmers. The dairy industry is fighting this problem, and losing a lot of money in milk and baby animals doing it. I used HeLa cells to study a protein from the uterus of a cow to see if it is involved in helping to maintain pregnancy. Basically, to see if this protein would help keep cows pregnant so that there is less loss for the dairy farmers, and more baby cows!

      I hope that my explanation, should it ever reach a member of the Lacks family, is helpful to them in understanding that Henrietta is helping so many areas of science. They have the right to know, in terms understandable to the public, what kind of science is being done with Henrietta’s cells.

      I don’t currently use HeLa cells in my research, but I have since graduated with my BS and MS, the BS with the help of HeLa cells, and I work at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in research. Since HeLa cells were the first line that I used, I have a deep appreciation of where the cells have gotten me in my career. Thanks, Henrietta.

    5. Dina Ciccone says:

      Read the book this weekend… outstanding job! I was a teacher in Baltimore City in 2000 and one of my students came to me and told me she was either the granddaughter or great granddaughter of Henrietta… at the time I was familiar with the cell line (Biology degree) but unaware of the human story…so thank you

      Not much of a story to share but I wanted you to know what a fantastic job you did with the book. I wish I had paid more attention back then… I had used the cells in college, my husband is a cancer researcher at the UM and still uses them today.

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    The Henrietta Lacks Foundation strives to provide financial assistance to needy individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without their knowledge or consent.