- experiments to figure out things about cancer or even non cancer cell lines
- production of cellular reagents for laboratory research including antibodies and other proteins that can be then be used in “cell-free” systems for cellular protein function studies
- production of therapeutic protein pharmaceuticals such as antibodies, hormones and vaccines
- testing potential cancer therapies
Normal cells cultured in the lab will stop dividing after a number of division cycles (40-60) due to shortening of the ends of chromosomes called “telomeres” (see my previous post on telomeres) while HeLa cells have an overactive “telomerase”, an enzyme that lengthens telomeres to keep cells growing for ever. HeLa cells grow unusually fast even compared to other tumor-derived cell lines tested.
Normal cells can be engineered to become immortal by infection with a virus such as human papilloma (HPV) which will induce mutations at the DNA level in genes encoding proteins involved in maintaining normal cell division and DNA damage checking and repair.
For more info on interesting novel therapies to treat cancer and testing your genetic risk you can see my previous posts on these topics (genetic testing for disease risk, immunotherapy, and pharmacogenetics).