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HeLa Cells Discoveries in Medicine. Polio Treatment

The Discovery of the Vaccine for Polio

The HeLa cells were cervical cancer cells which were obtained from a woman cervix, Henrietta Lacks, back in 1951 at the Hopkins Hospital. On culturing the cells, they proved beneficial for the growth of an indefinite cell line from a human source. This opened a myriad of opportunities to advance the understanding of cancer as well as the diagnosis and treatment of many other diseases. Among the very first benefit derived from HeLa cells was the ability to culture the polio virus which later paved way for the formation of polio vaccine. HeLa cells also made it possible to differentiate the various strains of polio virus (Skloot, p. 3).

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Despite bringing a new dawn in the field of medicine, HeLa cells and their origin were and still are surrounded by several ethical issues. The way the cells were obtained was unethical as since the cells were obtained for culture without an informed consent of Lacks’ husband, David Lacks. It was unethical for the researchers to feign that they wanted to harvest the cells to facilitate the study of Henrietta’s cause of death and eventual prevention of a similar predicament falling on her children. In contrary the cells spread all over the world and scientists worked with them for over two decades without the knowledge of Henrietta’s family. It was also unfortunate that the cells were being commercialized without the consent of the family and the family did not benefit from the commercialization of the cells.

The HeLa cells opened a Pandora box on ethical issues that have changed the medical research procedures. The ethical issues surrounding the collection of the cells and the blood samples from Henrietta’s family in order to understand the cells better without informed consent has demanded ethical codes be instituted, requiring informed consent to be sought whenever dealing with human subjects. In addition, the ethical and unresolved issue of whether humans can commercialize their body parts and body cells evoked.

The HeLa cell’s ability to multiply within a short time meant that the cells could grow indefinitely if not inhibited. As such, the cells had to be contained otherwise they would be the only cells that can be harbored in a laboratory. There is also the feared problem of contamination of the HeLa cells with viruses and other cancer cell lines such as breast cancer cell line (Podolak, para 2). This disadvantage puts many studies that were done using the cells in doubt and the research conducted using the arguably contaminated cells may possibly be termed as incorrect and a waste of time and resources.

Indeed, the understanding of the origin of HeLa cells is a demonstration of how unethical medical research can be. However, it is also an eye opener into how the understanding of cancer was expanded by the ability to grow a human cell line. Despite the much progress, ethical issues surrounding use of human cell lines and human subjects in research must be addressed regardless of the benefits accrued from the research.

How the Virus Idea Trap Works

The idea of virus trap is based on the ability of the virus to bind, gain entry and multiply in the host’s cell. Since the virus manipulates the susceptible cell to make copies of the virus (Zimmer, p. 1), the red blood cells are best suited as dead end for elimination of the virus as the RBCs lose their DNA. Since the virus attacks susceptible cells by binding the viral ligand onto the host cell surface receptor and then it penetrates into the cell, this mechanism can also be used to lure viruses.

The idea would be to engineer cells which have cell surface receptors with the capability of binding the viral ligand but which do not allow the entry of the virus into the cell. This would ensure that the virus does not multiply since it can only do so inside the host’s cell.

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In another strategy, the cells can be made to be permissive to the entry of the virus but have the same cells egress the virus together with the host’s cell DNA. This is exemplified by the ability of the red blood cells to egress their DNA during their development in the bone marrow. The cells have to be first made more susceptible to the target virus to act as a trap. Thereafter, the same cells are used to exit the virus out of the cells, thus curtailing the multiplication of the virus.

To make the host cells more susceptible requires that the host cells have the specific cell surface receptor that will be used by the virus to attach its viral ligand. In case of a trap that works by denying the entry of the virus by failure to retract the host cell surface receptor, there is need to have a threshold of such host cells to ensure that the viral cells are kept at minimum. For traps that work by first allowing entry of the virus and then egress the virus as the cell loses its DNA, it would be advisable to have as many permissive cells as possible to attract massive viral ligand binding thus reaching a therapeutic threshold.

Works Cited

Podolak, Erin. Ending cell line contamination by cutting off researchers: Top Cell Culture Feature of 2010. The International Journal of Life Science Methods. BioTechniques.

Skloot, Rebecca. Henrietta’s dance. John Hopkins Magazine, 2000.

Zimmer, Carl. Scientists explore ways to lure viruses to their death. The New York Times, 2007.

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