While many members of the public became aware of Henrietta Lacks and her famous immortal cells after reading Rebecca Skloot’s book, others have been working directly with the cells for many years. Waclaw Szybalski, Professor Emeritus of Oncology at UW Madison, has worked with HeLa cells since 1954, not long after George Gey began to develop Henrietta’s cell line in 1951.
Dr. Szybalski used HeLa cells as controls when he studied gene therapy with the Detroit 98 human bone marrow cell line, starting in 1954. He contributed greatly to genetic research with the development of the HAT selection method, enabling him to isolate human cell mutants and demonstrate the first genetic transformation of human cells. As a result, he discovered and coined the term human gene therapy,a process which removes or alters genes within cells or tissue in order to treat disease, in 1962. Next year will be the 50 year anniversary of this milestone. Dr. Szybalski’s works and acheivements are too numerous to mention in full. Click here for a list of his publications, areas of study, and awards.
To hear more about how HeLa cells relate to science, medicine, race, and ethics, RSVP to attend the Go Big Read capstone events on April 15th and 16th at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, or click here for an agenda of speakers, panelists, films, and more.