Dr. George Otto Gey (1899-1970) was an American cell biologist and tissue culture pioneer best known for his role in establishing the HeLa cell line. He worked at Johns Hopkins University and was the director of the Tissue Culture Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1951, Dr. Gey obtained a tissue sample from Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. From this sample, he was able to isolate and culture the first immortal human cell line, which he named HeLa, after the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last names. HeLa cells could divide indefinitely under proper laboratory conditions, making them a valuable resource for scientific research.
Dr. Gey’s work with HeLa cells laid the foundation for numerous advances in biomedical research, including the development of the polio vaccine, cancer research, and the understanding of cellular processes. HeLa cells have also been used to study the effects of radiation, toxins, and various drugs, contributing to the development of new therapies and treatments.
Despite the significant contributions of Dr. Gey and HeLa cells to science and medicine, there are ethical concerns surrounding the use of HeLa cells. These concerns include the lack of informed consent from Henrietta Lacks or her family, the commercialization and distribution of HeLa cells without compensation to the Lacks family, and the potential violation of patient privacy. The story of Henrietta Lacks and Dr. Gey’s work has sparked an ongoing discussion about the ethical considerations in biomedical research involving human tissue samples.