Have you heard the story of Henrietta Lacks?
If not you definitely should be doing some research as there is not a single person in the world who has not benefitted from her “immortal cells.”
The story began in January 1951, when Mrs. Lacks was found to have cervical cancer. She was treated with radium at Johns Hopkins, the standard of care in that day, but there was no stopping the cancer. Her doctor had never seen anything like it. Within months, her body was full of tumors, and she died in excruciating pain that October. She was 31 and left five children, the youngest just a year old. She had been a devoted mother, and the children suffered terribly without her.
Neither Mrs. Lacks nor any of her relatives knew that doctors had given a sample of her tumor to Dr. George Gey, a Hopkins researcher who was trying to find cells that would live indefinitely in culture so researchers could experiment on them. Before she came along, his efforts had failed. Her cells changed everything: they multiplied like crazy and never died.
A cell line called HeLa (for Henrietta Lacks) was born. Those immortal cells soon became the workhorse of laboratories everywhere. HeLa cells were used to develop the first polio vaccine, they were launched into space for experiments in zero gravity and they helped produce drugs for numerous diseases, including Parkinson’s, leukemia and the flu. By now, literally tons of them have been produced.
Starring Oprah Winfrey, HBO has produced a biopic detailing Henrietta’s life and her unwitting contributions to medical science. Check out the trailer below!
This is almost like a medical version of Hidden Figures! It represents yet another contribution of African-American women to the world and their worth. You can catch The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on Saturday, April 22nd!
Written By: Michael “Hey Mikey” Fanning