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Office of Research Assurances Institutional Biosafety Committee

HeLa cell lines

Risk summary and guidelines for risk management

HeLa cell lines were derived from cervical cancer cells taken in 1951 from Henrietta Lacks, a patient who died of cancer months later. The cells are characterized to contain human papillomavirus 18 (HPV-18)—1 of 2 HPV types responsible for most HPV-caused cancers.

Risk summary

Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) protections apply to work with pathogens or infectious organisms associated with human diseases. These organisms pose a moderate health hazard. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines (pdf) require BSL-2 containment for work with HeLa cell lines.
Risk factorRisk group
Overall risk group2
Pathogenicity/virulence3
Transmissibility2
Endemicity2
RecombinantsN/A
Infectious doseUnknown
Environmental stability3
Economic considerations2
Availability of prophylactic and therapeutic treatments3
Mode of transmission2
Host range2
Vectors2

Risk management guidelines

Primary hazards (1)Exposure of mucous membranes to droplets/aerosols
Accidental parenteral inoculation
Special hazard notes (1)None
Containment requirements (1)Biosafety level 2 practices and containment facilities for all activities involving cell lines known to contain this virus.
Required PPE (1)Laboratory coat; gloves
Spills outside BSC (1)Allow aerosols to settle: wearing protective clothing gently cover the spill with absorbent paper towel and apply sodium hypochlorite to the spill, starting at the perimeter and working towards the center; allow sufficient contact time (30 min) before clean up
Effective decontamination (1)Sensitive to 1% sodium hypochlorite and 2% glutaraldehyde
Post-exposure informationThere is no prophylactic treatment once an exposure has occurred. (1)

HPV-18 virus has been associated with the following diseases:
• Squamous cell carcinoma of the sinuses
• Oral carcinoma
• Oral leukoplakia
• Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus
• Bowenoid papulosis
• Bowen disease
• Carcinoma of the vulva
• Carcinoma of vagina
• Carcinoma of cervix
• Carcinoma of the penis. (2)
HPV type 18 positive cervical cancer patients, despite negative histological findings in the lymph nodes should be considered as a subpopulation for poor outcome especially in the young age group. (3)

Complete an incident report if exposure has occurred.
Medical surveillanceA vaccine is currently available. This vaccine is not effective post exposure. All who work in labs that manipulate this agent are encouraged to become informed as to the appropriateness of this vaccine for them. For more information:
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Gardasil 9, Human Papillomavirus 9-valent Vaccine, Recombinant
National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute
WSU oversight1. Submit a Biosafety Approval Form (BAF) to the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).
2. Obtain approval from the IBC before starting work.
3. Develop a current BSL-2 Biosafety Manual that includes an exposure control plan for established cell lines. Submit the manual to the WSU biosafety manager by the submission deadline. When developing your manual, use the BSL-2 biosafety manual template.
4. Environmental Health and Safety will contact you to schedule a facility review.

You must complete the Biosafety Manual and the facility review prior to the IBC meeting. Otherwise, the BAF will likely be deferred until these reviews have been satisfactorily completed.
References:(1) Public Health Agency of Canada, Human Papillomavirus, Pathogen Safety Data Sheet – Infectious Substances
(2) Medscape, Human Papillomavirus
(3) Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2000 May; 90(1):93-5. “Poor clinical outcome in early state cervical cancer with human papillomavirus-18 positive lymph nodes,” Sápy T, Hernádi A, Kónya J, Lukácskó L.