Patterico's Pontifications

2/1/2010

Immortal Cells

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 8:41 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

The story of Henrietta Lacks is very interesting, and apoptosis is fascinating. See if you agree.

— DRJ

23 Responses to “Immortal Cells”

  1. It is a fascinating story, DRJ. It’s easy to get impatient with the family (looking for money, unclear on the cell concept), but that is the world we live in. And it is up to scientists to be able to explain what they do.

    Again, worth your time to read the book….

    Eric Blair (20b3a8)

  2. It wasn’t my focus but why shouldn’t the family share in the financial rewards from the research on HeLa’s cells?

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  3. It’s an amazing and disturbing story. I’ve read that HeLa cell weigh several hundred times as much as Lacks did.

    I learned about HeLa cells decades ago, in Readers’ Digest.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  4. The names made me chuckle, HeLa? Immortal? But it looks like a fascinating story. Prolly racist.

    JD (61d2c1)

  5. DRJ, they would, today. Heck, Yellowstone Park gets a cut of any unusual microbe isolated from there that has commercial value.

    Seems fair to me, in a most basic way.

    Eric Blair (20b3a8)

  6. Actually, I doubt they would. The government and every medical institution I’ve been to make you sign away your rights in order to receive treatment.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  7. Readers’ Digest was and still is terrific. In fact, I’d be happy if it and the Constitution were the only assigned reading for high school internships.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  8. Sadly, DRJ, National Parks seem to have some rights where patients do not:

    http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/bioprospecting/index.html

    Eric Blair (20b3a8)

  9. I loooooooooooved Reader’s Digest as a kid and a teenager, into my 20s. Couldn’t wait to get the next issue. For a while I got their Condensed Books. They even had the cheek to bring out a Condensed Bible. But RD also played a courageous role in publicizing the dangers of smoking.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (9eb641)

  10. “It Pays To Increase Your Word Power” was important in my home, growing up.

    Eric Blair (20b3a8)

  11. The ‘immortality’ of HeLa cells is not in the fact that they are invulnerable (although to a degree, they can withstand a great deal of punishment), it’s more like the cell lines do not suicide.

    Most cells have telomeres, which dictate how often they can undergo mitosis (and also the efficiency of the cells). Each time the cells divide, a bit of the telomeres get shrunk. Once it’s been worn to a nub. the cell no longer divides but dies instead. It’s basically a suicide switch.

    Cancer cells are far more robust in that particular manner, which is why cancer is a problem. HeLa cells effectively do not have telomere degradation, which means the cells keep going as long as you provide them food, oxygen and a hospitable environment.

    Gregory (f7735e)

  12. Gregory,

    I was under the impression that HeLa’s cells lacked the apoptosis mechanism, something I thought was related to but still separate from telomeres. Can you educate me?

    Eric,

    Great link, and isn’t it interesting how advanced science can be when humans aren’t too involved?

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  13. What I really find fascinating about this immortal cell line is it is now known as a laboratory “weed” that has contaminated hundreds of cell lines in the past 50 years.

    Also, her cells where taken without her knowledge. I was unaware that it is legal to do that, even today.

    ML (f060a0)

  14. The polio vaccine was developed using embryonic cells. The Smithsonian is known for other PC stories. For example, they have an exhibit of the “first heart surgery” that was performed by a black surgeon. The trouble is that his procedure was sewing up the pericardium, not the heart, in a case of stab wound of the heart. That is contraindicated.

    I don’t find it at the Smithsonian anymore so they may have taken it down. The first successful repair of a stab wound of the heart was by a German.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  15. Must be February ….

    East Coast Chris (ded5f2)

  16. While it is fascinating, it would seem disconcerting to to have oneself (in a sense) available for purchase at Sigma-Aldrich.

    HeLa Human Cell Line – $215

    Techie (217a89)

  17. Cancer cells are far more robust in that particular manner, which is why cancer is a problem. HeLa cells effectively do not have telomere degradation, which means the cells keep going as long as you provide them food, oxygen and a hospitable environment.

    I’ve read that the HeLa cells were taken from her tumor. Does that mean they were cancer cells, or otherwise abnormal?

    Subotai (a5cced)

  18. According to Wikipedia (I know, but still)

    A HeLa cell (also Hela or hela cell) is an immortal cell line used in scientific research. The cell line was derived from cervical cancer cells taken from Henrietta Lacks, who died from her cancer on October 4, 1951. The remarkable durability of this cell line is illustrated by its contamination of many other cell lines used in research.

    I’m no medical expert, but this seems to be saying that the HeLa cells are a very tough strain of cancer.

    Subotai (a5cced)

  19. @8 DRJ — Readers’ Digest was and still is terrific. In fact, I’d be happy if it and the Constitution were the only assigned reading for high school internships.

    Probably would double the national school-age IQ in about 6 months.

    I had no idea what apoptosis meant or even that cells needed an instruction or mechanism that will allow them to die.

    Truly a fascinating subject and thank you DRJ.

    Pons Asinorum (ffeb5e)

  20. It fascinates me, too, Pons Asinorum.

    Subotai — I’m reluctant to opine because I’m a layman, but: I believe you are correct that the HeLa cells were cancer cells, but they were still cells bearing the genetic markers of a specific individual. Among other things, apoptosis tells cells when to die — even cancerous cells — and the interesting thing is why it didn’t tell hers.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  21. Apoptosis is the suicide mechanism for cells that have degraded too far to continue functioning properly. You are probably correct, DRJ, in that both mechanisms were in play for HeLa cells – but the primary thing is that the cells do not shorten their telomeres during mitosis, hence apoptosis is not triggered at the end of their division limit, because there is no division limit in the first place.

    There are (I think) three self-correcting systems in cells; damage them and you end up with cancerous cells. They remain brain/bone/blood/muscle cells, but now you have a problem because they (a)grow far beyond their design limits and (b)spread the damage to your other systems.

    Subotai is correct; HeLa cells are cancerous cells.

    Gregory (f7735e)

  22. I guess this thread is dead, but I found this and thought it fascinating.

    Due to their ability to replicate indefinitely, and their non-human number of chromosomes, HeLa was described by Leigh Van Valen as an example of the contemporary creation of a new species,

    His argument for speciation depends on three points:

    The chromosomal incompatibility of HeLa cells with humans.

    The ecological niche of HeLa cells.

    Their ability to persist and expand well beyond the desires of human cultivators.

    Sounds like science fiction come to life.

    Subotai (bb41c8)


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