A must have book! One of the best books I’ve read in years…
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells taken without her knowledge became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, Virginia, in 1920 and grew up poor and with little education on a tobacco farm. She was married at the young age of 15 and later moved her family to Baltimore, where her husband sought employment as a steelworker. In 1951, after the birth of her fifth child, she was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for an aggressive form of cervical cancer. During her treatment, doctors removed a piece of her tumor without her knowledge and used her cancer cells without her permission. She died at the age of 31. However, millions of her cells, known as “HeLa,” are still alive today. Henrietta’s cells are unique because they can live and replicate outside of the human body. The cells from that tissue sample were mass-produced and have become priceless pieces of medical research. HeLa cells are shipped around the world and have even been sent into space to study the effect of zero gravity on human cells.
Henrietta’s cells were an unprecedented scientific discovery and treatment of many diseases, including polio, cancer, leukemia, influenza, Parkinson’s, AIDS, etc. They also aided in the discovery of how cells work, in-vitro fertilization, gene mapping and more. Basically, anything to do with researching our bodies, chances are Henrietta’s cells are involved in the process. Her cells were even sent into space on an unmanned satellite to determine whether humans can survive in zero gravity. Dubbed ‘HeLa’ cells, they have been multiplied in labs worldwide to the point where they’d weigh “about 50 million metric tons—about as much as 100 Empire State Buildings” and “wrap around the Earth at least three times, spanning more than 350 million feet.” It has been 60 years and counting since the first culture was taken. Henrietta died of uremic poisoning in a segregated ward for blacks about 8 months after being diagnosed with cancer. She never knew her cells were taken and used as the “most vital tools in modern medicine and would spawn a multi-billion dollar industry.” Her cells became the first human immortal cells ever grown in a lab. She is survived by a husband and three children, who didn’t know her cells were being used until 25 years later. , Her immortal cells have contributed to many breatkthroughs in modern medicine.