Its name is Haila cell, and it is the first cell in medical history that has been cultured in vitro and is ” immortal”. It has helped medical scientists to solve the mystery of how cancer and virus affect human body, and has contributed to numerous medical breakthroughs such as in vitro fertilization, cloning technology, gene mapping and so on, involving almost all medical research fields. It has been used to investigate the impact of atomic bomb explosion on human body, and has also been used to carry rockets from the United States and the Soviet Union to study cell proliferation in weightlessness. Since entering the 21st century, five research achievements based on Haila cells have won Nobel Prize …
It originated from cervical cancer cells of a black American woman, Harriet Lachs, who died of the cancer in 1951. A surgeon from Johns Hopkins University Hospital took tissue samples from her tumor and cultured them in the laboratory. Different from other normal human cells, this cell line will not die of aging and can divide indefinitely. It is estimated that Haila cells have been cultured to date in excess of 50 million tons, with a volume equivalent to more than 100 Empire State Building in New York.
Unfortunately, for a long time, people did not even know the name of the woman who made such outstanding contributions to the medical cause. They only named the cell with the abbreviation ” Haila” of the first letter of her name. Rebecca Slote, an American science writer, spent 10 years digging through this history spanning nearly a century and published the ” Haila of Eternal Life”. The Chinese version was translated and published by Guangxi Normal University Press in November 2018.
The author uses the form of multi-line narration, taking time as the axis, through a large number of interviews with Harry Lachs’ children and medical experts, on-site visits to the place where the incident took place, and collection of original files, vividly restores the tortuous past that happened around Haila cell from 1951 to 2009, spanning more than half a century.
In January 1951, 30 – year – old Lachs was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. The attending doctor collected cancer tissue specimens from Lachs and handed them to Dr. George Gay. Normal cells of human beings do not have the function of infinite division. Once there is abnormality in the process of division, they will die of themselves. Normally, human cells will die after dividing about 56 times, so it is impossible to multiply them in large quantities by artificial methods. Gay was surprised to find that the cells collected from Lachs did not die and showed signs of growth. The number of cells doubled every 24 hours. Gay knew intuitively that this was the ” undead” cell he had been looking for for years. In the following years, Haila cells were provided to research institutions around the world for cancer research and pharmacy.
In 1952, researchers infected Hela cells with various viruses isolated from tissues of mumps, measles and herpes diseases, which resulted in modern virology. In 1953, thanks to Hela cells, the principle of gene detection was discovered. In 1954, Haila cells helped scientists realize cell cloning. In 1956, Haila cells preceded human beings and entered space with a Soviet satellite. They began to be used in astrobiology research. In 1965, Haila cells helped realize gene mixing. In 1973, scientists used the spread of Haila model salmonella to measure its infectivity and study its activity in human cells. In 1986, scientists discovered how to infect Haila cells with human immunodeficiency virus ( HIV ), through which they found a key receptor and revealed the infection mechanism of the virus. In 1989, Yale University researchers found that Hela cancer cells contain a substance called telomerase, which can prevent cells from dying. This brings telomerase, a mysterious substance that controls biological aging, into people’s eyes. In 1993, researchers infected Hela cells with Mycobacterium tuberculosis DNA and understood how bacteria invade human cells.
For decades, the legend of Haila cells assisting medical research has been continuously written, but at the beginning, Lachs’ family did not know anything about it, and the medical workers who used Haila cells to carry out research all over the world did not know the name of the cell source. It was not until 1971, 20 years later, that Harriet Lachs was first spelled correctly and appeared in an American magazine. Two more years passed before Lachs’ family learned that Harriet’s cells were still alive.
At first they were full of grievances and anger, questioning how doctors could take Lachs’ cells without permission. Lachs’ daughter Deborah even worried that the ” mother’s cells” infected by nuclear radiation or virus in the laboratory would hurt her mother.
After learning about the contribution of Haila cells to human beings, they also began to be proud of their relatives. Later, Deborah finally met her ” mother” in the laboratory: a small bottle of Haila cells frozen in liquid nitrogen. Facing the small bottle, who could not remember her mother’s face, she said softly: ” You are really great, but no one else knows.”
In this book, the author Rebecca Slote not only shows in detail how the Lachs family accepted the existence of Haila cells in a lifetime, tells the scientific principle of immortality of these cells, uncovers the dark past of human experiments, but also discusses in depth the legal issues of medical ethics and ownership of body tissues, as well as the race and belief issues among them.
This book delicately captures the touching stories of scientific discoveries and their far-reaching influence on individuals. After publication, with donations from the outside world, the family finally erected a tombstone for Harriet. The tombstone was inscribed with the words: ” Haila cells will forever benefit mankind.” This sentence perfectly explains Haila cells’ contribution to mankind.