In 1951, at the age of 31, Haretta, a black American, died in agony from cervical cancer after giving birth to her fifth child.
But the cancer cells extracted from her body have survived, dividing 18,000 generations over 71 years and reproducing and regenerating 50 million tons!
Using Hela cells as a vehicle, scientists have developed a variety of vaccines, advanced cloning technology, and contributed to five Nobel Prizes!
As a rule, cancer cells cannot survive on their own, so why are Hela cells an exception? Is it possible to break the existing lifespan limit of human beings if we go deeper?
Accidental discovery of "immortal cells"
In 1920, Herretta was born into a poor black family in the United States, the tenth oldest in her family.
The family all worked in a tobacco factory, and because of the family's poor circumstances, Rita got married and had a child at the age of 14. The more children they had, the poorer their lives became.
Until 1950, pregnant with her fifth child, the mother, Herita, was always inexplicably tormented by the analgesic pain between her thighs that kept her awake at night. At that time, the United States was still very racist and there were very few hospitals for blacks to see. After a few tries, she found Johns Hopkins Hospital, the only hospital in the United States open to blacks.
When she finished describing her symptoms, the doctor determined that the location of the pain should come from Herretta's groin and that the cause was probably a rupture of the internal soft tissue inside the groin. However, during the subsequent treatment, the doctor found a strange malignant tumor growing on Haretta's cervix, with a smooth surface and bleeding when touched.
In order to study more deeply, the doctor began to turn to outside help Dr. George. He extracted a small sample from Haretta's tumor without her knowledge and sent it to George's research lab overnight. Under a high-powered microscope, Dr. George was even more amazed that the cancer cells would die if they left the host, but the cancer cells on Haretta's body could actually survive on their own.
The growth was accelerated in the culture solution, and the division rate doubled every 24 hours, which was almost like a "crazy" proliferation. Dr. George was so excited that he exclaimed that this discovery was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for medicine.
So he named the bizarre cell after the initials of Herretta, and more cells were replicated and distributed to laboratories in every state in the United States. Because the growth rate and experimental results were so fast, within two years, Tara cells became essential research material for all major laboratories in the United States.
Scientists have also taken advantage of this unique opportunity to create a medical miracle. The secrets of viruses were unlocked, a vaccine was developed and injected, and scientists found treatments to deal with nuclear radiation and cancer attacks. Some new technologies have also gone from conception to reality, such as the cloning of Dolly the sheep and artificial fertilization technology.
In 1956, Hela cells were also sent to space on a Soviet spacecraft. It was found that Hela cells divide exponentially in space.
The Hela cells are undoubtedly a first-class contributor to the development of medicine and biology in the 20th century. Among the most outstanding medical contributions are the HPV vaccine (human papillomavirus) and the bone marrow vaccine, two achievements alone that have saved billions of lives.
Helping medicine to achieve great results
As early as 1935, scientist Jonas sorted out the principle of a vaccine for polio, but suffered from the lack of experimental samples.
It wasn't until he extracted poliovirus from the patient and attached it to the surface of Hela cells, thus allowing the virus to "hitchhike" and become active for a longer period of time, that Jonas was able to look at poliovirus in more detail.
Soon, Jonas and a group of scientists broke through the dilemma and succeeded in developing a bone marrow vaccine, the same method used to treat and prevent polio.
Today, this vaccine has long been rolled out worldwide. Mr. Gu Fangzhou and his team even worked on a sugar pill that is more suitable for our nationals, allowing polio to be almost completely eliminated from our children.
Another outstanding contribution of Hela cells is the HPV vaccine. 1980, scientist Hausen extracted a substance called HPV-18 from Hela cells, and after a long research, finally developed a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer, which won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2008.
The Hpv vaccine has been a direct and resounding boon to all of humanity, statistically reducing cervical cancer deaths by 70%.
Hela cells have long been proliferating in medical laboratories around the world since 1951. Almost any biological laboratory must have HELLA cells in storage, and they are still making a strong contribution to modern medicine today.
Now 71 years later, Hela cells have successfully reproduced for 18,000 generations, dividing and regenerating up to 50 million tons! This huge number of HELLA cells is distributed in laboratories all over the world. Today the number of papers based on Hela cells has exceeded 70,000.
In this way, HELLA cells are undoubtedly a gift from God, helping the world of medicine to "go straight to the top" and achieve a series of breakthroughs.
That the fate of the original owner of the Hella cell, Haretta, is this change? What kind of life did she lead as a black poor person?
Reality is chilling, as Herretta passed away due to illness back in 1951, and to her death she never knew anything about Hella's cells, much less received a penny for her subsequent medical success.
Because the doctor who cut away the tumor cells from her body at that time did not inform Herretta of her own consent, it was impossible to know the existence of Hela's cells. The year after her hospital visit, Hela, who was already in the advanced stages of cervical cancer, insisted on giving birth to her fifth child despite her illness, and she died of the disease on October 4. To this day, Hela cells are still used as biological samples in major research projects.
This was clearly inconsistent with basic medical ethics. However, it is true that sample notification was not included as a clear and explicit requirement in the norms of medical ethics in the scientific research concepts of the time.
The main business of a research institute in the United States is the replication and mass production of Hela cells, which are sold to major universities and research institutes, and can be sold for as much as $300 for a few milliliters in a vial. Today there are countless people who have made huge profits from the scientific research, production and results of Hela cells, but the descendants of the Haretta family never did.
Until the beginning of 2022, a medical research institution in the UK consisting of thousands of people formed a research foundation named after Hera Tower, donating millions to support Hera cell-based life science research. This is also a kind of spiritual reward for Hera Tower.
On the contrary, why is it that the cancer cells in Haretta's body, on the contrary, can divide so miraculously and infinitely?
The principle of "immortal cell"
The most critical reason for this is that Hela cells contain an abnormal telomerase enzyme. It is important to know that the division and cessation of telomerase determines the survival and apoptosis of cells. If the ability of telomerase to divide is diminished, human organs will also slowly age and eventually die. Telomerase is present at the top of each chromosome DNA code.
In general, telomerase becomes shorter in length with each division. When the 50th division is reached, the telomeres become too short to divide and replicate. At this point, the person is dying of old age.
However, the telomerase in Hela cells is overactive and does not become shorter as a result of division. Whenever a telomere divides, it immediately replenishes itself to restore its original length, which is why Hela cells can divide and regenerate indefinitely without aging, thus "eternal immortality".
It makes one wonder if immortality is possible if the DNA in the human body is replaced by the telomerase of Hela cells. Or at least extend the current human lifespan?
Of course, this is only an unrealistic idea of biological scientists, far from the stage of clinical trials. Even if this field advances further in the future, it will face huge ethical controversies. For now, at least, humans have benefited greatly from Hela cells. Research is advancing on various genetic diseases, tuberculosis and vaccines.
May people in the future remember the original ordinary black girl, Hairetta!
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