Cell line: HeLa Cells
Cell type: Human cervix carcinoma
Origin: Taken from cervix carcinoma of a 31 year Henrietta Lacks in 1951
Morphology: Epithelial-like cells growing in monolayers

HeLa Cells of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Her cervical cells were taken and grown in culture by a scientist called George Otto Gey. It grew like no other cells and it became the most widely used cell line in the world and helped in many medical discoveries including the polio vaccination and currently spearing heading research in AIDS. It was the first human immortal cell line. Her cells were grown commercially and companies made lots of money from her cells without Henrietta’s or her family’s consent. Sadly, the Lacks families had no clue about the existence of her cells till a few years ago. They were so poor that they could not even afford health insurance. Read more about this amazing cell line and the woman called Henrietta Lacks. Read more about this amazing cell line and the woman called Henrietta Lacks.
HeLa Cells of Henrietta Lacks
HeLa Cells of Henrietta Lacks 


Culturing Hela Cells

Watch the Hela cell culture protocol from thawing to plating out.

Medium: 90% of MEM or DMEM (with Earle's salts) with 10% FCS + 2 mM L-glutamine + non-essential amino acids. Can also use RPMI-1640 and 5-10% FBS.

Subculture: split confluent culture 1:4 or 1:6 every 3-5 days depending on confluency using trypsin/EDTA. Rate of doubling time is 24 to 48 hours. Seed at 1-2 x 106 cells/80 cm2. Incubate at 37 °C with 5% CO2

Storage: frozen with 70% medium, 20% FCS with 10% DMSO at about 1 x 106cells/ampoule

Asymmetric spindle orientation oh HeLa cells

Asymmetric spindle orientation oh HeLa cells on crossbow shaped micropattern

Henrietta Lacks, HeLa Cells, and Cell Culture Contamination

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksHenrietta Lacks died in 1951 of an aggressive adenocarcinoma of the cervix. A tissue biopsy obtained for diagnostic evaluation yielded additional tissue for Dr George O. Gey's tissue culture laboratory at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, Maryland). The cancer cells, now called HeLa cells, grew rapidly in cell culture and became the first human cell line. HeLa cells were used by researchers around the world. However, 20 years after Henrietta Lacks' death, mounting evidence suggested that HeLa cells contaminated and overgrew other cell lines. Cultures, supposedly of tissues such as breast cancer or mouse, proved to be HeLa cells. We describe the history behind the development of HeLa cells, including the first published description of Ms Lacks' autopsy, and the cell culture contamination that resulted. The debate over cell culture contamination began in the 1970s and was not harmonious. Ultimately, the problem was not resolved and it continues today. Finally, we discuss the philosophical implications of the immortal HeLa cell line.

Reference and rest of the article: Lucey BP, Nelson-Rees WA, Hutchins GM. 2009. Henrietta Lacks, HeLa cells, and cell culture contamination.Arch Pathol Lab Med. 133(9):1463-7

Story of HeLa cells

The entire story of Hela cells and the Henrietta Lacks.

HeLa cell culture protocol

Medium: 90% of MEM (with Earle's salts) with 10% FCS + 2 mM L-glutamine + non-essential amino acids. Can also use RPMI-1640 and 5-10% FBS.

Subculture: split confluent culture 1:4 or 1:6 every 3-5 days depending on confluency using trypsin/EDTA. Rate of doubling time is 24 to 48 hours. Seed at 1-2 x 106 cells/80 cm2. Incubate at 37 °C with 5% CO2
Storage: frozen with 70% medium, 20% FCS with 10% DMSO at about 1 x 106cells/ampoule

Reporting of HeLa cells for the first time by George Gey

The cells of a human epithelial cancer cultivated en masse have been shown to support the multiplication of all three types of poliomyelitis virus. These cells (strain HeLa of Gey) have been maintained in vitro since their derivation from an epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix in February, 1951. As the virus multiplied it caused in from 12 to 96 hours degeneration and destruction of the cancer cells. The specific destructive effect of the virus was prevented by adding homotypic antibody to the cultures but not by adding heterotypic antibodies. Methods for the preparation of large numbers of replicate cultures with suspensions of strain HeLa cells were described. The cells in suspension were readily quantitated by direct counts in a hemocytometer. A synthetic solution that maintains cellular viability was employed for viral propagation. The experimental results demonstrate the usefulness of strain HeLa cells for (a) the quantitation of poliomyelitis virus, (b) the measurement of poliomyelitis antibodies, and (c) the production of virus.

Scherer wf, Syverton jt, Gey go. J Exp Med. 1953 97(5): 695-710.

HeLa Cells - News