I'm curious if HeLa cells are intrinsically poisonous or dangerous to ingest.

My understanding is that some of the contamination in HeLa cells such as HPVs are not readily expressed.

I have no plans to do so, but I'm trying to understand why they might or might not be.

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    $\begingroup$ ..they are cancer cells from a fatal case of cervical cancer and they are favored because they don't stop dividing. I would not eat them. I'm sure the experiment has not been done. They are not poisonous, though. Cultured mammalian cells (not HeLa cells) are being proposed as a way of making meat substitutes. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Jan 26, 2014 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ HeLa can't be as contagious as this dog cancer, but it is transmissible by cells invading the soft tissue of dogs... sciencemag.org/content/343/6169/437 $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Jan 27, 2014 at 5:47

1 Answer 1


I think HELA cells are edible, although from moral point of view this would be cannibalism.

Despite they are cancer cells, they are safe for foreign organism, because any ate matter is destroyed. Even if these cells were implanted into another being by surgery, they will be safe since immunity will recognize them as foreign and kill. They are much less cancerous for recipient than just foreign.

Remember, then when we are eating meat, we don't care if cow or pig had cancer. Even if we avoid eating explicit tumors, we can still eat metastatic cells from sick animals. I think this happening all the time and has no consequences.

Simultaneously HELA cells are dangerous for other cell cultures in laboratory. There were several cases, when other cultures were infected by HELA cells and crowd out. HELA cells were traveled by air and on objects unexpectedly. Scientists were not ready for this phenomenon.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess I would like the answer to discuss some of the contamination in the line itself. The line itself appears to be contaminated by various pathogens, often mentioned is HPV - although I am not sure if it is actively expressed. For example, if I eat a bunch of HPV contaminated tissue, will I also get HPV? I am not sure if the digestive system is able to deal with all of these pathogens, for example, If I eat a bunch of BSE contaminated tissue I will get mad cow disease. $\endgroup$
    – Mikhail
    Apr 24, 2015 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ Of course some pathogens can infect us when eat. But the point is that HELA cells are nothing special in this case. You said it yourself: you can get BSE or HPV in everyday life, you need not eating HELA for this. So, I can get some pathogens from HELA, but unprobably and this definitely won't be a cancer Henrietta died of. $\endgroup$
    – Dims
    Apr 24, 2015 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ I guess the outstanding question is, if in raw form, they might contain sufficient pathogens to be considered dangerous. I don't consider something that will give you HPV "edible". $\endgroup$
    – Mikhail
    Mar 19, 2018 at 11:29

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