This cell line was developed from the kidney cells of a Dutch baby girl of unknown gestational age aborted most likely in 1972. The designation means Human Embryonic Kidney cells, attempt 293. These cells are used for basic research and widely in pharmaceutical research, development, and production, especially in vaccines.
Dr Alex Jan van der Eb recounts why he sought kidney cells:
So the method that we followed was take human embryonic kidney cultures. Why kidney cultures? And that is mainly because of the fact that the rodent system, the rodent model that we used were always baby rat kidney or baby mouse kidney or baby hamster kidney. The kidney cells were very suitable for these transformation studies.
Then his recollections about the fetal source of the tissue:
So the kidney material, the fetal kidney material was as follows. The kidney of the fetus was, with an unknown family history, was obtained in 1972 probably. The precise date is not known anymore. The fetus, as far as I can remember was completely normal. Nothing was wrong. The reasons for the abortion were unknown to me. I probably knew it at that time, but it got lost, all this information.
His associate Dr Frank Graham transfected these cells with adenovirus to make them ‘immortal’. After 292 failed attempts, he succeeded in 1977 to create an immortalized cell line and named it HEK-293. In May 2020, Fr Nicanor Austriaco wrote:
I received an e-mail a few months ago from Professor Frank Graham, who established this cell line. He tells me that to the best of his knowledge, the exact origin of the HEK-293 fetal cells is unclear. They could have come from either a spontaneous miscarriage or an elective abortion.
The imprecision comes from the term abortus, which could mean either an induced abortion or a miscarriage. Note however, that Graham was not present at the original abortion-event, but only received the tissue a year later for his research. Note also that Graham was willing to accept these cells and experiment on them, whatever their source may have been. The same indifference was shown by Dr van der Eb who sourced the tissue for HEK-293 and PER.C6, as he explains:
The [HEK-]293 cell was made by Frank Graham in 1973 from human embryonic kidney cells that were made from fetal tissue one year… before that, so… probably in 1972.
Earlier he had described the baby girl was described as “completely normal”, which strongly suggests she was in fact aborted. Her tissues would have to be alive to be of any use. HEK-293 is used in drugs such as Pulmozyme, Repro, Eloctate, rhFVI, Nuwiq, and for Ebola and Covid vaccines
 FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (2001), Testimony of Dr. Alex J. Van Der Eb, Developer of Fetal Cell Line. See p. 81. < https://cogforlife.org/wp-content/uploads/FDA-Transcript-HEK293.pdf>
 Dr Alex Jan ‘Lex’ van der Eb (1934- ). A molecular biologist and virologist. He was a professor of fundamental tumor virology and later molecular carcinogenesis at Leiden University from 1979 to 2000. He has performed research in adenoviruses and was fundamental in the creation of the technique of calcium phosphate transfection and the founding of the HEK 293 and PER.C6 cell lines. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lex_van_der_Eb>
 USA Food and Drug Administration, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (May 16, 2001), p. 80. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20170516050447/https://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/01/transcripts/3750t1_01.pdf
 USA Food and Drug Administration, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (May 16, 2001), p. 81. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20170516050447/https://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/01/transcripts/3750t1_01.pdf
 Dr Frank Graham. An internationally-renowned Canadian scientist who is a pioneer in the fields of molecular virology and gene therapy, particularly with the use of adenovirus as a vector for transfer and expression of foreign genes in mammalian cells. In 1975, he began working at McMaster University in Hamilton. In the 1970s, prior to beginning his career at McMaster, he worked in the Netherlands first as a post-doc and later as a research associate in the lab of Dutch scientist Dr Alex van der Eb. During this time, he generated the cell line called HEK-293. On his return to Canada, Dr. Graham continued to characterize the HEK-293 cell line and used it in the development of numerous Ad5-based viral vectors for gene transfer and potential recombinant viral vaccines. <https://nrc.canada.ca/en/stories/foundations-discovery-honouring-work-canadian-researcher-dr-frank-graham>
 Characteristics of a human cell line transformed by DNA from human adenovirus type 5 (1977) in J. gen. Virol. (2977), 36, 59-72, by F. L. Graham, J. Smileyt, W. C. Russell, R. Nairn. See: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=AE5ADDC51B2253CA74EFBDCF20027A77?doi=10.1.1.486.3027&rep=rep1&type=pdf
 USA Food and Drug Administration, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (May 16, 2001), p. 77. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20170516050447/https://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/01/transcripts/3750t1_01.pdf
 Alvin Wong, M.D., The Ethics of HEK 293, National Catholic Bioethics Center (2006), 473-495, in https://www.pdcnet.org/ncbq/content/ncbq_2006_0006_0003_0473_0495