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So what else is new?

In a classic bit of strange understatement, Gizmodo reports that HeLa cells are weird.

Recent genomic sequencing on the popular "Kyoto" HeLa line reveals known errors common to cancer cells like extra copies of certain chromosomes, but also shows unexpected mutations like strong expression of certain genes and segment reshuffling on many chromosomes.

Uh, “recent”? HeLa cells were isolated from a cancer. Cancer cells have these common features, like genomic instability, aneuploidies, and loss of cell cycle control that we all know about. These particular cells were selected for properties that differ from healthy undisrupted human cells.

I also don’t know anyone studying them as models for humans (although I have heard animal rights people claim they’re adequate substitutes for mice, which is just as ridiculous).

So no surprises, and no understanding of cell culture research. We’re done!

Comments

  1. says

    Heh. Even someone involved in the study commented on the Gizmodo article calling BS:

    I wanted to weigh in here as a member of the team that participated in this study. A lot of important points have been raised by other commenters, the most important of which is that everybody already knew that these cells were not genetically normal and despite that, they have enabled absolutely revolutionary discoveries in biology. The genome sequence does not change any of that. Our study in no way denounces their use, and rather aspires to inform it. If you’re interested in what we actually found, please have a look at my blog post where I discuss this in detail: link

    Other inaccuracies: We are not raising questions about the genetic integrity of these cells. Nobody wants to sequence the original tumor and that wouldn’t even be a possibility. Stronger expression of certain genes is not a ‘mutation’. And finally, despite this article’s insinuations, HeLa cells are by no means the only ones researchers use to study human biology – there are literally thousands of options.

    @raekaaiyar

    The important point to remember: Gizmodo’s business model is trolling for clicks.

  2. A. R says

    Of course, most Americans are just going to go “ooooooooooooooh! sciencey words and stuffs! We should listen to this person!”

  3. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    Cancer cells – that are cancerous due to viral infection – are mutated?

    This is news?

  4. blf says

    This is news?

    Very much so. It totally destroys the prevailing hypothesis that cancer is caused by houseflies skyjacked by peas and flown to a secret recombinant DNA engineering facility on Jupiter run by FEMA where the files are repurposed to glue your refrigerator door shut. And everyone knows the real cause of cancer is the strain involved in opening stuck doors, especially when it prevents you from getting at the beer.

    So obviously, FEMA isn’t involved. It must be the ACLU. The UN’s black helicopters will soon be collecting the people who published this revolutionary finding.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Science reporting in the US stinks.

    It stinks everywhere. It’s practically always done by people who don’t understand what they’re writing about.

  6. David Marjanović says

    Wow, two typos in the HTML. Let me try again.

    Science reporting in the US stinks.

    It stinks everywhere. It’s practically always done by people who don’t understand what they’re writing about.

  7. raven says

    The current model of cancer is an evolutionary one of somatic cells.

    Cancer cells evolve starting with loss of growth control, immortality, evasion of host defenses, metastasis, resistance to chemo, radiation, biologicals, and so on.

    It’s correct. We know this by sequencing starting cells and terminally lethal cells. About 15 or so mutations are causitive or contributory to the phenotype. This finding informs cancer therapy where the new drugs are targeted directly against oncogenes.

    Evolution is a fact and we see it all around us every day. Cancer, the evolutionary driven disease will kill 1/3 of the US population.

  8. brucemartin says

    While Gizmodo seems partly to blame here, I think the Nature source article is the root of the reporting problem. Did anyone ever think HeLa cells were normal? No! Then why didn’t the editors of Nature add that fact into their write up? Was it too obvious to bother with?

  9. Esteleth, stupid fucking starchild Tolkien worshiping douche says

    I’m pretty sure the fact that HeLa cells are abnormal has been known more or less since they were first isolated. That said, how they are abnormal has not. And this is very relevant – if researchers are using HeLa cells to study something, and HeLa cells are abnormal along that axis, then their data are suspect. So knowing how they are normal, and abnormal, is important information. This is why the news that the transformation of healthy non-cancerous cervical cells into HeLa cells happened due to human papilloma virus infection – that is, Henrietta Lacks (the source of the cells) had HPV, which gave her the cancer that ultimately killed her. This is noteworthy because it establishes the mutation(s) and phenotype(s) that result when cervical cells are infected with HPV (with ramifications both for work with HeLa and other cervical cancer lines AND for care for patients).

    Remember also that HeLa was the very first immortalized cell line. Studies on HeLa led to the immortalization of other cells, based on analyses of how HeLa cells were different from somatic cells and experiments with inducing the differences observed in other cell types towards the goal of achieving other immortalized lines.

  10. john says

    Hela cells are used as a model for cancer. They are pretty good for that because they are cancer cells. And they are also the closest anyone has ever gotten to an undead monster, because these things are unkillable, and they will infect everything.

    “HeLa cells are by no means the only ones researchers use to study human biology – there are literally thousands of options.” — and it has been discovered that some of these alternative cell lines were actually murdered and replaced by HeLa cells, long ago.

  11. Ichthyic says

    It totally destroys the prevailing hypothesis that cancer is caused by houseflies skyjacked by peas and flown to a secret recombinant DNA engineering facility on Jupiter run by FEMA where the files are repurposed to glue your refrigerator door shut. And everyone knows the real cause of cancer is the strain involved in opening stuck doors, especially when it prevents you from getting at the beer.

    damn, there goes Dan Brown’s next book project!