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He-La cells - why so special?

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He-La cells - why so special?

Postby Julie5 » Tue Sep 21, 2010 8:39 am

Hi (new to board and v. grateful to have found it!)

I appreciate that He-La cells are an immortal lineage from Henrietta Lack's cervical cancer cells, but are they 'more immortal' (!) than other cancer cell lineages? ie, I'm trying to find out if they are different from other cancer cell lineages in some way, and if so, what makes them different, or whether they are just incredibly easy to passage (I think that's the right technical word??) (and if they are, why?).

Many thanks - Julie.
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Postby biohazard » Tue Sep 21, 2010 11:47 am

HeLa cells are not more immortal than many other similar cells lines. They aren't especially easy or difficult to passage or handle, either. The biggest thing they probably have is that many early studies were done with them, and because other researchers subsequently built upon those results, the same cells remained in use. So they're not special, they just happend to be the first ones to be commonly used and thus also well-characterized.

As a side note, nowadays many HeLa cell lines have mutated and are fundamentally different from the original lines, so it is almost as if you worked with completely different cell lines if you use certain HeLa cells.
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Postby Julie5 » Thu Sep 23, 2010 7:48 am

Thank you! That's exactly the clarification I was after. It's always a bit tricky when reading the popular press to get the 'full science' of something, so am most grateful to you.

I also read in passing that in some respects HeLa is now considered akin to Japanese Knotweed, in that it can be an unwanted contaminant of other cell lines.
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Postby biohazard » Fri Sep 24, 2010 6:37 am

Indeed, HeLa cell have been reported to contaminate even some commercially available cell lines, and probably contaminate many cell lines where researchers do not even know they are contaminated. I do not know how extensive this problem is, though.

Most cell line providers have extremely high quality controls nowadays, so it is unlikely they have this problem any more. I think this problem is not quite as big as it perhaps sounds, anyway.
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