One of the features of many cancers is the loss of genome integrity. One of the most stunning examples of this is chromothripsis. Chromothripsis involves the shuffling or rearrangement of chromosomes. Dr. David Pellman, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, discusses how he and his lab have been able to define and explain one of the reasons for chromothripsis. His discovery allows the scientific community to use genomic information in a new way and to better understand human disease.
The true legacy of Henrietta Lacks and her famous HeLa cells, the first immortal human cell line, is how they have enabled so much scientific discovery. Dr. Pellman has also benefited from HeLa cells, in part because they have chromothripsis. This is just one aspect of the enduring importance of HeLa for scientific advancement. Reflecting on the legacy of Henrietta Lacks enables us to emphasize the central role of patients and their families in the communal effort behind biomedical discovery and the eradication of human disease.