HeLa genome offers clues to cells’ cancerous nature | Science News


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HeLa genome offers clues to cells’ cancerous nature

Genetic sequence published along with agreement to protect family’s privacy

1:26pm, August 7, 2013

DECODING CANCER  HeLa cancer cells (one shown in an electron micrograph) came from a woman called Henrietta Lacks. Scientists studying the complex HeLa genome have agreed to protect the genetic privacy of the Lacks family.

A detailed DNA profile of the world’s most widely used cancer cell line sheds light on the genetic chaos the cells use to grow virtually unchecked in laboratory cultures. That property may also explain their virulent growth in the woman who unwittingly left them to science.

The famous cells came from a biopsy taken in 1951, when Henrietta Lacks was dying from cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Although no one asked Lacks or her family for permission to perform experiments with the cells, they formed the first immortal human cell line ever successfully grown in the lab. HeLa cells were pivotal in developing a vaccine for polio, among other scientific milestones.

But one problem for researchers using HeLa cells has been that their genome is a scrambled version of a normal human genome. This makes it more difficult to design and interpret experiments using the cells.

The new work, reported by University of Washington researchers in the Aug. 8 Nature,

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