Henrietta Lacks (pictured) died of cervical cancer in 1951. But before her death, a biopsy sample from her cervix was used to successfully grow the first human cell line – HeLa cells. HeLa cells are widely used in biomedical research because of their ability to divide indefinitely. This immortality and their unusual durability in the laboratory is what makes them so valuable as a scientific tool. They were used by Jonas Salk to develop a polio vaccine, were the first human cells to be cloned, and there's currently more than 10,000 patents involving them. The coloured scanning electron micrograph pictured shows a HeLa cell undergoing cytokinesis – the final stage of cell division. The first HeLa Conference was held at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta on October 11, 1996. The city has made this Henrietta Lacks Day to recognise her contribution to health research and medicine.
Written by Kevin Pollock
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