Whose cells are they anyway?

December 24, 2010

Rebecca Skloot's book has received critical and popular acclaim in 2010

In hundreds of research labs around the world, including within my own Department, scientists carry out experiments using a human cell line known as “HeLa”. Most cells die after a defined period of time, but mutations within the HeLa cells have allowed them to continue dividing outside of these normal contraints, and as such they are said to be “immortal”. The original tissue sample from which HeLa cells are derived was taken from the cancerous cervix of an African-American woman Henrietta Lacks (the name of the cell line being an abbreviation of her name).

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a captivating account of the human story behind these amazing cells, has recently won many plaudits, including the prestigious Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

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Forensic uses of DNA

December 10, 2010

For the past three years we have been asking second year students to produce a short film on a bioethical topic as an assessed activity. This task allows the students to demonstrate their knowledge in creative ways. I have finally got around to posting some of their films on our own YouTube channel. The first of these focusses on the use of DNA in forensics and as well as the students’ own CSI-style story it also features an interview with Alec Jeffreys. More videos will be posted shortly.