Monday, August 19, 2013

Henrietta Lacks, the black woman whose cells helped the fight against cancer

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who was the unwitting source of cells (from her cancerous tumor) which were cultured by George Otto Gey to create the first known human immortal cell line for medical research. This is now known as the HeLa cell line.

An important announcement from the National Institutes of Health has cast light on the need for more debate and clarity on a subject certain to challenge both science and individual privacy in the future.

The announcement concerns Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Baltimore who was being treated in 1951 for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the time, doctors removed some of her tumor cells without her knowledge or consent. She died soon after at age 31, but the cells lived on — they showed a remarkable ability to grow endlessly in culture and became abedrock of biomedical research around the world. However, as author Rebecca Skloot documented in her bestselling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the descendants of Ms. Lacks did not know for many years that her cells had played such an important role in science.

Read more:

The Book:

Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cells: Impact on Biological Research and Informed Consent