Judicial Dictionary

HeLa cells – Henrietta’s cancer cells

When Henrietta attended a cancer clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in January 1951, her surgeon, Howard Jones, took a tissue biopsy of her cancerous womb and was passed to George Otto Gey, a  cancer researcher in the same Baltimore hospital who was astonished by the ability of the cells to replicate in laboratory culture.

Normally, cancer cells would divide a few times and die off before any decent studies could be done with them. But Henrietta’s cells just kept on dividing and dividing, just so long as they were fed the right mix of nutrients for them to grow. Henrietta’s cancer cells became the first human “cell line” to be established in culture and Gey named them after the first two letters of her name – HeLa (pronounced “hee-la”).

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