b.1920 - d.1951
Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer
in 1951. Yet, in terms of biomass
, there is more of her around today than there was when she was alive. Cells from Henrietta's body were the first human culture to survive past the 50th generation. Called HeLa
cells, they have been aiding medical researchers for 50 years and were instrumental in developing the polio vaccine
Mrs Lacks was the mother of five. She was poor. She was black. Neither she nor her family received any money for the use of her cells. She was being treated at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The husband and wife research team of George and Margaret Gey discovered that Henrietta's cells reproduced aggressively outside of her body.
The story of Henrietta Lacks raises questions of informed consent, medical ethics, and what we own of our bodies. HeLa cells have been instrumental in scientific research, but even there problems arose. The HeLa cells grow so aggressively that they have contaminated many other cell cultures -- often without the knowledge of researchers.
Books for additional reading:
"A Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman's Immortal Legacy and the Medical Scandal it Caused" by Michael Gold
"HeLa: The Immortal Cells of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca L. Skloot