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Biomedical Person of the Day Immortality in Death
11 October 2015

Immortality in Death

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 lineHeLa 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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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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