Her Story: Henrietta Lacks

Georgia as Henrietta Lacks. Her cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in a culture.
Her Story: Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951) contributed more to the advancement of biomedical research than any single person in history. Lacks was a mother, grandmother, daughter, and wife. Tragically, Mrs. Lacks past away from cervical cancer at age 31. However, her cells live on today,  66 years after her passing. Her cells have been essential in developing the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, and cloning. They have been used to develop cancer drugs, HIV treatment, Parkinson’s disease and hundreds of other applications. Her cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in a culture and have prevented over 650,000 deaths and 13 million cases of paralysis since 1988. 

Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the only hospital in the area that treated black patients. Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer after the birth of her fifth child in 1951. During her treatment, two tissue samples were taken from Lack’s without her permission or knowledge, which was not required at the time. These samples were given to a researcher, George Otto Gey, who labeled them with the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’s first and last name. The sample became known as HeLa. Lacks’s cells were different then the other samples that sciences had been working with for decades, her cells reproduced at a very rapid rate and could be kept alive long enough to study. This working sample divided multiple times without dying, her HeLa cells became known as “immortal”.

Henrietta Lacks has likely contributed more to the advancement of biomedical research than any other single person in history. HeLa cells have been part of over 11,000 patents and scientist have produced over 20 tons of cell material from the cell samples taken from her. Amazingly, it wasn’t until 1970 that her family became aware of the important roll that Henrietta’s cells played in the science community.

Henrietta Lacks left behind a piece of herself, a legacy that lives on today, saving lives and improving the health of our global community.

Henrietta Lacks, her cells were the first immortal human cells ever grown in a culture. HeLa.
Henrietta Lacks

Links to Learn:

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Black Girl Nerds: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks Foundation


Henrietta Lacks – Biography.com

About The Author


Mother, Photographer, Wisecracker.... not necessarily in that order.

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