Why did Henrietta Lacks die when her cells didn't die? As I understand it only the cells from her cervix were immortal so perhaps the cervical cancer took her life and the cells never died.

  • $\begingroup$ It's the feature of cancers. The normal cells die via apoptosis or stop to replicate, cancerous cells lose their specialization, travel in the body, and grow tumor by anarchic replication. $\endgroup$
    – Quidam
    Dec 11 '19 at 17:02

The cells never died in the sense that they kept replicating, individual cells still died. They were safely cultured in petri dishes before Henrietta Lacks died. The cells came from a tumor that developed from her cervix. The cervical cancer cells had developed high telomerase activity. Telomerase builds telomeres on the ends of DNA, protecting the chromosomes. In normal cells, telomeres tend to get shorter as the cells divide, eventually the DNA is damaged and the cells die. HeLa cells are protected because their telomeres are well maintained.

There was nothing special about Henrietta lacks that made her tissues immortal, so digging her up wouldn't be worth it. Her family would probably get mad too.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah that makes perfect sense! I guess I took the word 'immortal' literally. Now I don't have to commit a crime. XD Thank you so very much!!! I really really appreciate it!!! Wising you a happy Thanksgiving! ;D $\endgroup$
    – Dani
    Nov 28 '14 at 3:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ There has also already been some controversy over using HeLa cells. Permission to use HeLa genome was never explicitly granted by the family until the relatively recent HeLa agreement. nature.com/news/deal-done-over-hela-cell-line-1.13511 - Nature 500, 132–133 (08 August 2013) – $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 30 '14 at 18:11

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