Who is Henrietta Lacks?
She is a woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31.
No….She lives on till today. Here is how.
But first, get this right – This is a rare and perhaps the only case of human cells surviving outside the body indefinitely. It defies the very foundations of science and the theory of The Hayflick limit which states that normal human cells subjected to a cell culture can divide 40 to 60 times. Beyond that, the cycle begins a senescence phase where cell division stops – this can be correlated with aging. This mechanism may be responsible for prevention of genomic instability and development of cancer.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, one of the scientists working at the John Hopkins University Tissue Culture Lab got a sample of her cells – named the “He-La” cell line from “Henrietta Lacks”. These cells have a still active version of telomerase enzyme (a mechanism due to which aging takes place in a cell) and proliferate abnormally fast.
HeLa cells multiply and double at a daily rate; unlike any other human body cells outside the bodies. This is nothing short of a miracle and is used in medical research the world over!
In the period since her death, Henrietta Lacks’ tumor cells have been used continuously for cancer research and also other studies on AIDS, radiation, toxic substances, gene mapping, etc. Unknown to her, Henrietta Lacks continues to be a part of this world.