HeLa Timeline

  • Removal of Tissue

    Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr. (the surgeon on duty at Johns Hopkins) removed cells from Henrietta's cervix and place them in a petri dish marked HeLa, without the consent of Henrietta while she received cancer treatment.
  • HeLa Cells Spread to Researchers Around the Globe

    George Gey appeared on television and claimed that he would be trying to cure cancer with samples of cells. He would attempt to ship the cells to researchers by packaging them in tubes with culture medium and would have pilots or stewards place the tubes in their pockets to keep them warm. When they rode in the cargo hold he would place them in blocks of ice in boxes filled with sawdust in order to prevent them from overheating.
  • HeLa Distribution Center is Made and Polio Vaccine is Proven to be Effective

    William Scherer is appointed to oversee the HeLa Distribution Center at the Tuskegee Institute, where HeLa cells could reproduce at 6 trillion cells per week and thousands of liters of culture medium could be made. HeLa cells were eventually shipped to 23 polio-testing centers around the country and would soon be able to help prove that Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was effective.
  • HeLa Cells Were Frozen for Storage and Shipping

    Freezing the HeLa cells made it possible for the cells to be shipped without harming or changing them in the process. It made it possible for the HeLa cells to be distributed in the standardized way that frozen foods and frozen cattle sperm were without needing ot worry about them being fed or remaining sterile. It also allowed scientists to suspend the cells at any point in time to examine them in various states of being.
  • HeLa Cells and Genetics

    When accidentally mixing the wrong liquid with HeLa and other cells, the chromosomes swelled making it easier to see that normal human cells have 46 chromosomes (originally thought to be 48). This made it easier to determine when a person was likely to have a chromosomal disorder such as Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, and Turner syndrome.
  • The Cold War's Effect on HeLa Cells

    Scientists exposed HeLa cells to radiation and high powered centrifuges that mimicked the effects of deep sea diving and spaceflight in order to see how they would react under extreme conditions. The United States government even requested Gey's assistance to study hemorrhagic fever, which was killing American troops, so he took Henrietta's cells with him to the Far East.
  • Standardization of Tissue Culture

    Gey and his colleagues decided that it would be nearly impossible to replicate one another's experiments with multiple different ways of making culture medium and many various experimental techniques, so they organized a committee to develop standard techniques of tissue culturing. They even convinced companies like Microbiological Associates and Difco Laboratories to begin producing and selling ingredients for culture media and taught them the techniques to do so.
  • HeLa Cells are Able to be Cloned

    In Colorado, scientists were able to discover a new way to clone living cells and eventually scientists around the world were able to grow singular cells in culture that could be used to isolate stem cells, clone whole animals (Dolly the sheep), and fertilize cells in vitro.
  • Another Distribution Center is Made

    The owner of Microbiological Associates, Samuel Reader, discovered the intensifying market for HeLa cells and created another HeLa factory in Bethesda, Maryland. Here he could reproduce the cells at mass quantities fro scientists that found they lacked the ability or time to grow the HeLa cells on their own. With Reader's business growing, the Tuskegee center closed.
  • HeLa Cells and Cosmetics/Pharmaceutical Companies

    The Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) sparked the interest of scientists when they wanted to reduce the visible age on the older member's faces using steroids for cosmetic purposes. Scientists wanted to see how the HeLa cells without their nuclei (to prevent spreading) would react to steroids, chemotherapy drugs, hormones, vitamins, environmental stress, tuberculosis, salmonella, and the bacterium that causes vaginitis.
  • HeLa Cells and Cancer Testing

    Chester Southam feared that HeLa could possibly give cancer to the scientists working with the cells, so he injected syringes filled with HeLa cells into cancer patient's arms to see if they would form tumors. After a few days, the injection site would become red and hard nodules formed (he would remove some to determine if it was cancer, but left others to see how the immune system would react). The patients eventually fought off the cancer, but in four cases the cancer came back.
  • HeLa Cells and Cancer in Healthy Patients

    Southam once again injected HeLa into the arms of 65 Ohio prisoners who were participating in the study. Unlike the patients before, the prisoners fought off the cancer completely and faster each time they were injected with more HeLa cells. Later he moved onto injecting gynecologic surgery patients without explaining what he was doing.
  • HeLa in Space

    In the second satellite orbit ever to be made, HeLa cells went into space showing scientists that space travel could cause cardiovascular changes, bone and muscle degradation, and a loss of red blood cells. They also showed scientists that cancerous cells divide faster with each trip, unlike the noncancerous cells that grew normally.
  • HeLa Enters a Cultured Cell Bank

    William Scherer, Lew Coriell, and Robert Stevenson, established a nonprofit federal cell bank at the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) to establish a reference collection of cells. This would be done to reverse the effects of researchers mislabelling (or not labelling at all) vials on cells in their research.
  • HeLa Cells in a Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital

    Southam made an arrangement with Emanuel Mandel at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital to have 22 JCDH patients injected with the HeLa cancer cells; however 3 of the doctors refused to do so, citing the Nuremberg Trials in Germany after the Holocaust. They claimed that because the patient did not give consent that it would be morally wrong to inject them with a potentially dangerous substance. After Southam's trial in 1965, the NIH declared that patient consent is required before research.
  • HeLa Helps With Human-Animal Hybrids

    Henry Harris and John Watkins fused human and mouse cells together to see what genes do and how they work. Harris also fused HeLa cells with deactivated chicken cells to see if the HeLa would "turn the chicken cell back on." As a result, scientists discovered that something in cells regulated how they work which led them to question how they could turn off disease genes.
  • Gene Mapping and Hybridal Research

    In the mouse-human cell line, all of the human chromosomes eventually went away leaving only the mouse ones. This discovery allowed scientists at New York University to trace genetics in human to specific chromosomes based on the order in which genetic traits vanished. They used this knowledge to set up the genome map we use today and used the hybrids to create monoclonal antibodies to create cancer therapies, identify blood types, and study the role of immunity in organ transplantation.
  • HeLa Contamination

    Geneticist Stanley Gartler discovered that HeLa contained an extremely rare genetic marker known as G6PD-A which had invaded into other cell lines in the cell culture industry. This specific genetic marker was found almost exclusively in African American cell lines (even though it was identified in some caucasian cell lines), so researchers could only assume that HeLa was the cell line that had invaded the others. This invasion could invalidate much of the research that was conducted.
  • HeLa and HPV-18

    A virologist from Germany known as Harald zur Hausen discovered a new strain of HPV (HPV-18) that was tested to be positive in the HeLa cell line. He believed that this is what caused her cervical cancer.
  • HeLa Cells Help Scientists Understand HIV and AIDS

    Molecular biologist Richard Axel inserted a specific DNA sequence from a blood cell into HeLa cells which made it possible for HIV to infect the HeLa cell line.This allowed scientists to better understand how HIV spread and eventually led to AIDS.
  • HPV Vaccine

    Harald zur Hausen discovered that when they blocked HPV DNA in HeLa cells, it caused cervical cancer cells to not be cancerous anymore. Eventually, zur Hausen developed the HPV vaccine and was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in the field.