Henrietta Lacks — Black History Month

With an original movie set to premier on HBO starring Oprah, there’s much ado about the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks.

A wife and mother who had her life cut short by cancer, she left a piece of herself that still exists today. HeLa, cells do not die after a certain number of divisions, given this immortality, her cells prove remarkably useful in scientific research to this very day. HeLa is the oldest and most commonly used human cell line.

They have enabled a multitude of scientific breakthroughs that include:

  • The polio vaccine
  • Virology – the study of viruses
  • Developing HIV/AIDS treatments
  • Lead to the discovery that HPV causes cancer
  • Used in the research of genome sequencing, space travel, and deep sea exploration

The Lack’s family  has not seen any compensation, to date, for the continued use of the HeLa cells. However, in 2013 The National Institute of health (NIH) has agreed, “Lack’s genome data will be accessible only to those who apply for and are granted permission. And two representatives of the Lacks family will serve on the NIH group responsible for reviewing biomedical researchers’ applications for controlled access to HeLa cells. Additionally, any researcher who uses that data will be asked to include an acknowledgement to the Lacks family in their publications.”

Henrietta Lacks must be remembered and appreciated for helping to advance humanity and push us ever forward. We encourage everyone to do some research and get ready to be in awe of the mighty contributions of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells.



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