Yale scientists host local students at cardiovascular research center

This spring, 70 local teens from Common Ground High School in New Haven visited Yale School of Medicine to learn about the work of scientists who comprise the Yale Cardiovascular Research Center (YCVRC). During the two-day event, the youth toured the center, where more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and faculty search for new discoveries in cardiovascular medicine. At three stations in the center’s laboratories, the students were able to view both live and fixed HeLa cells, as well as cells originating from the heart or the vascular system.

They concluded their day with a panel discussion about scientific integrity, ethics, and the story behind HeLa cells, the oldest and most commonly used human cell line in scientific research. HeLa cells were the subject of a bestselling book and movie, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” about the woman whose cervical cancer cells were used for research without her knowledge or consent.

The students shared their thoughts about what they gleaned from the experience:

For all of you to take your time and give us a tour as great at this one, it’s obvious to us that you genuinely enjoy what you do. You showed us how cool biology truly is and the impacts that it has on our everyday life.”

The scientists explained how much a human cell is worth, the issue of consent to use human tissue and cells, and how much of an impact it has on the patient, as well as the power of the person who has access to it.”

I was put at ease when you all had the panel and answered the questions about Lacks, regarding the theft of her cells, and if there was any regret toward using them. For a moment I figured some scientists were heartless, the way they seemed to detach themselves from the origin of the cells. Hearing that you made a point to try and get down to the bottom of her cells really made a difference in my vision of scientists.”

Given the success of the event, YCVRC looks forward to hosting students in the future. “We are hoping for this outreach to continue as a bridge program between the YCVRC and the greater New Haven community,” said Irinna Papangeli, associate research scientist in medicine and the team leader for the event. For more information, contact Irinna Papangeli at irinna.papangeli@yale.edu.

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Ziba Kashef: ziba.kashef@yale.edu, 203-436-9317