More than 60 years ago, Dr George Gey extracted epithelial cells from a cervical carcinoma in an African-American woman, who died eight months later due to the tumour. These became the first immortal human cells to be grown in the laboratory and they are known as HeLa cells from the patient’s name: Henrietta Lacks. (There’s a book and even a film about the story behind the cells, which were taken at the time without her knowledge or consent).
The picture, taken by former Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) researcher Fèlix Campelo, shows a culture of these cells that can be found in laboratories around the world, since they have been and still are very valuable for biomedical research. The development of the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilisation techniques, and research into HIV are examples of studies in which they have been used. Even NASA sent them to space in one of their missions!
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