George Otto Gey

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George Otto Gey
George Gey.jpg
Born (1899-07-06)July 6, 1899
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died November 8, 1970(1970-11-08) (aged 71)
Baltimore, Maryland
Pancreatic cancer
Nationality American
Fields Cell biology
Institutions Johns Hopkins University
University of Pittsburgh
Education University of Pittsburgh
Johns Hopkins University
Known for Propagating the HeLa cell line
Spouse Margaret Gey (m. 1926–70)

George Otto Gey /ɡ/ (July 6, 1899 – November 8, 1970) was the cell biologist who propagated the HeLa cell line.


Gey (pronounced "Guy") was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 6,1899 to Frank and Emma Gey, immigrants from Germany. By the 1910 United States Census he was living at 512 Frayne Street, located near the borders of Greenfield and Hazelwood, with his parents and two siblings, older brother, Frank and younger sister, Henrietta. Gey attended Peabody High School. In 1921 He received his undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh, he also taught zoology there. [1] Around 1926 he married Margaret K. (1900–1989), who was from Wisconsin. By 1930 they were living on Saint Paul Street in Baltimore, and in the 1950s they started the Tissue Culture Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Using a sample from the cervix of Henrietta Lacks provided by Howard W. Jones, he propagated her cells into an immortalized human cell line.

Gey is also credited for creating the roller drum. This machine was one of the first to help nurture cell cultures. The roller drum consisted of various holes where tissues and their appropriate growth substances were all located. The drum spun in order to mix the substances and once an hour allow the cultures to be exposed to the environment until the drum rolled again and rebathed the cells in liquid. Gey is also noted to be one of the first to document cell division and growth on film. He devised a time lapse camera that stood twelve feet, built out of spare parts from a nearby junkyard, with a temperature controlled incubator.


Gey died from pancreatic cancer on November 8, 1970 in Baltimore, Maryland. When undergoing an emergency procedure for his cancer, doctors found that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs and heart, thus making him inoperable. He wanted doctors to try to cut out a piece of the cancer in his liver to grow a new cell line that he wanted to be used for research. The doctors, however, didn't listen to him during the surgery and he was "furious" when he woke up.[2]


  1. ^ Skloot, Rebecca (March 2001). "An Obsession with Culture". Pitt Magazine. University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved August 27, 2013. 
  2. ^ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

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