Henrietta Lacks the immortalized woman.

A short story about a Henrietta Lacks, the “immortalized” woman and a forgotten figure in medical science.

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American tobacco farmer who was born in 1920 and mother of five. Henrietta Lacks found a lump in her lower abdomen at the age of thirty-one and went to the hospital to see a doctor about it as she began to start to bleed abnormally and profusely. First she was tested for syphilis but eventually, after that not being the case, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She was treated with tubes of radium that were sown into her body and after several days these tubes were removed. As the doctors performed the surgery to remove these tubes, they also collected two samples of cells, one healthy and one cancerous.

The cancerous biopt taken from Henrietta was brought to George Guy, the head of tissue-culture at Hopkins Hospital. He had been trying to get a successful human cell culture for decades but none of them would grow. The cells of Henrietta were put onto medium and they just “took off”. For the first time in history human cells could be replicated outside the body. These cells grown outside the human body are called in vitro (= in glass) cell culture.

To this day the culture of her cells, called “HeLa” in honor of Henrietta Lacks, live on. Taken on October 1951, the cells from Henrietta Lacks are still dividing and used for medical science.  If all of the cells that have been produced since were to be collected and stacked up, it would give a staggering amount of 50 million metric tons. About 150 Empire State buildings worth of weight.

Sadly, Henrietta Lacks died in October 1951 only eight months after seeking help at Hopkins Hospital. Henrietta Lacks will never know how much she has contributed to medical science or how many lives she has saved by enabling mankind to research human cells outside the body.

Today there is still much to be done in the field of cancer research. People are still losing lives to cancer and there is only little we can do. I shall provide a few links below about cancer research and articles related to the subject.

About Henrietta Lacks (Retrieved 11/5/2012).

“The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks” CBSNews interview with Rebecca Skloot March 15, 2010

Picture of Henrietta Lacks; retrieved 11/6/12


Extra Links for people interested;

The Neglected Cancer by The Inquirer http://www.philly.com/philly/health/20121105_The_neglected_cancer.html

Breast Cancer research


NCBI Pubmed’s entry about cancer, from causes, risk factors to treatments.



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