It's fitting that today -- the day after the 58th anniversary of Henrietta Lacks's death -- the Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak for the discovery of how telomeres and the enzyme telomerase protect chromosomes from degrading over time. In the late eighties, a scientist at Yale used Henrietta's cells (aka HeLa, pictured left) to discover that human cancer cells contain telomerase, which regenerates their chromosomes and prevents them from aging and dying like normal cells. This is one of the reasons why Henrietta's cells are still alive and growing today, fifty-eight years after her death.
A big congratulations to Elizabeth and Carol, who very patiently answered my many questions about HeLa and telomerase over the years for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!
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Very cool, I will share the anniversary with my students, and needless to say will buy the book. HeLa cells were a part of my life for a long time.